By Martha Lewand ’20

It may be hard to believe, but I recently had an interesting revelation when I took the ACT. Of course, most students consider the test both stressful and painful – it is a quintuple whammy of English, math, reading, science, and the essay. By the time I started to write that essay, I was thinking more about completing it than having a profound insight. But something about the essay got me thinking. Among other things, the prompt asked me to consider the perspective that we should block out as much bad news as we can, because too much negativity can lead people to believe that they can never solve the world’s problems. While that idea was initially appealing – after all, who wants to listen to bad news – I eventually concluded that bad news should be heard, not so we can wallow in depression and self-pity, but because hearing bad news is the first and most necessary step towards making the world a better place. As disturbing as bad news can be, it often is the impetus for positive change. Bad news may leave people frustrated, dispirited, and helpless, but when bad news inspires us to make a difference, it has the effect of bringing out the best in the human spirit, allowing us to find the solutions to the problems that plague us. To make ourselves better, we need bad news.

For example, take the Parkland school shooting in February 2018. In the aftermath, many people struggled to understand how such a thing could have happened. When I first heard about the incident, I was shocked, struggling to comprehend and grasp what had occurred. A few days later, however, I came across an article that detailed the biographies of the seventeen victims. As I scrolled down the list, tears began to stream down my face. I saw profiles that reminded me of students I knew and I also saw a profile that reminded me of myself. It described a seventeen-year-old boy named Nicholas Dworet. Nicholas was tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, like me; not only was Nicholas a swimmer, like me, but he was committed to swim at the University of Indianapolis next fall. Yet, he would never get to fulfill his dreams of attending college and pursuing the sport he loved.

Gradually, my sadness and heartbreak transformed into fiery frustration. I was tired of senseless gun violence in our schools; I was tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers” instead of demands for change. I had finally had enough.

Soon after, I heard about the March for Our Lives movement, the student-led demonstration that would take place in Washington D.C. I had never attended any sort of march before, but I knew this was a chance to use my voice along with hundreds of thousands of activists and demand change. On March 24, 2018, I woke up at 3:45 AM and made my way to our capital to march with my friend. We stood with our signs, marched on Pennsylvania Avenue with fellow students, and made our voices heard. I had never felt so empowered.

What came out of the Parkland shooting for me and many others was a newfound passion for political activism and the resolve to fight for better laws to prevent gun violence. I learned how important it is that young people stand up and fight for what we believe in. Finally, I understood that exposure to bad news is necessary because it can turn tragedy into something good, something that can inspire us to make change for the better.

Of course, no one wishes for bad news. That ACT essay perspective I mentioned made a good point: If we hear too much bad news, our hope for a brighter future may be crushed. In the face of catastrophe, we may just want to give up and stop trying. I felt that way after the Parkland shooting. However, out of our darkest fears and deepest despairs must come the resolve to make things better. To paraphrase, Edmund Burke once famously wrote that evil triumphs when good people stand by and do nothing. We have to be the force for positive social change. To become that force, we must confront the evil around us. When we learn of bad news, a school shooting, a race riot, or the murder of a journalist, we must resist the temptation to flip the channel or turn the page. As tough as it may be, we have to see the bad news as a chance to do something about it.

Recently, the US Congress banned bump stocks, which will keep someone from converting a legally purchased rifle into an automatic weapon. This will not end gun violence in America, but it is a critically important step toward making our schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and synagogues safer. That ban was passed because people were motivated by the grim reality of mass shootings in America. They accomplished this progress because they had the courage to confront a difficult truth and the conviction to act on their beliefs. We have to stare bad news in the face and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Only then will we build the country we want.