In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama stated that now, since Donald Trump is the president elect, “We are feeling what not having hope feels like.” This is the sentiment she so gracefully bequeaths to this country in her final days as the first lady. Hearing this statement of detriment takes me back to my second year of teaching, to an experience I will never forget.
I was teaching high school English in a small rural town about 30 miles from the city in which I live. Kids from all areas around that town are bussed in, even from as far as 45 miles away, and many others drive themselves to school on the interstate.
One morning, a group of kids in a couple different cars thought it would be funny to drive about 10 miles per hour on a stretch of 75-mile-per-hour interstate, where the sun glares just above the highway and makes visibility difficult. Tragically, they did so just as a semi was coming up the hill behind them, right where it’s so hard to see. The truck driver did not realize until it was too late that the kids were driving that slowly, and the result was a horrific accident in which three kids lost their lives.
I had driven past that area before the accident happened, so I didn’t know about it, but by the beginning of first period, word was spreading about the horrible accident. This was before cell phones and social media, so news didn’t travel as quickly as it does now. Many of us were concerned but uncertain about what happened.
About 30 minutes into first period, our principal got on the intercom and asked for everyone’s attention. She then proceeded to inform us all that there was a horrible accident before school, and she then announced that one student had been killed on site, while three others were in critical condition. She gave the names of all the kids. “This is a horrible, horrible thing,” she said, “and this is truly a crisis situation. I repeat, we are in a crisis situation. We will give you more news as we learn it.” It has been 18 years, but I can still close my eyes and hear those words clearly.
When she clicked off the intercom, students stared at me and then burst into tears. Some kids knew the students involved, but many did not. However, it didn’t matter, because just the tone of that detrimental announcement left us all devastated. I had no idea what to tell my students, who all looked to me for some sort of answer. I was completely unprepared for something like that. During the passing period, I heard the teacher across the hall telling a group of crying girls that the others would be fine. “It’s all going to be okay, all right? They’ll be okay,” she told them.
How can you tell them that? I thought, because we didn’t know. She was as ill prepared as I was, but her solution was to tell them it would all be just fine. Well, with two more announcements within three hours, we learned that things were not going to be fine. During second period, our principal informed us that one more student had died, leaving the entire school shaken and in tears. Then the final blow came at the beginning of fourth period. The third student had died.
I spent that day not teaching but doing my best to try to comfort all of my frantic students who were scared, uncertain, and in tears, while I myself was heartbroken and trying to hold it together. One of the deceased had been my student the year before, and knowing that she was just no more was hard to fathom, definitely not a situation they covered in college or during student teaching.
Despite the town being small, the school itself was large, and there were a lot more students who did not know the kids in the accident than did know them, but that didn’t matter. Because of how the entire thing was handled, every person in the school – student, teacher, counselor, administrator, custodian – left that day completely crushed and feeling hopeless.
Since my first experience of tragedy as a teacher, I have seen too many more instances over the years. However, despite the heartbreak and sorrow that comes with facing these experiences, there has been one main difference between that first horrible incident and all the others that have followed. Now, when something like that happens, we have an immediate meeting for staff members, and they make it clear that we are to read a brief statement to our students to clarify what we know – all at the same time in our classrooms – and then we are not to continue discussing it, avoiding the idea that we are in a crisis situation – the complete opposite of how my first principal handled the tragedy of the interstate accident. We inform the students that counselors are available and that those who feel affected are free to leave to see them at any point. But then we proceed as well as we can with a regular day.
The purpose of this course of action is not to downplay the sorrow or severity of the tragedy, but it helps to keep the kids who are not directly affected by it from completely freaking out, as happened with that first experience of mine. Our job is not to panic them in a crisis, to shake them and tell them they need to feel scared and horrible and hopeless, as my first principal did, but to guide them through the day and help them to feel as normal as possible. Because, despite the tragic loss, we will continue. We will do our jobs. We will persevere. And, as a community, we will make it.
Hearing Michelle Obama’s words to Oprah reminds me so much of my first principal’s announcement that morning. Not everyone in this country feels this lack of hope – obviously, otherwise, Trump would never have been elected – but for those who do or who may be uncertain, Michelle Obama’s sentiment was basically the same as the words of my first principal: “This is a horrible, horrible thing, and this is truly a crisis situation. I repeat, we are in a crisis situation.” And this will just drive a deeper wedge between those who now feel hopeless and those who do not.
True leaders would not leave the country with the sentiment that everything will be hopeless without them, as the Obamas are doing. True leaders, even if things were truly hopeless, would encourage the country to stay strong, to continue their lives, and to remain hopeful. However, as we have seen in these past few weeks, that is not the Obama style.
For me, my feelings of hopelessness were at their height in the days before the election. I watched the polls favoring Clinton and felt like most of the people in this country were blind to the collaborative effort of the mainstream media, the DNC, the celebrity class, and the Clinton campaign to manipulate the public into viewing Trump as the next Hitler and Hillary Clinton as the Crown Jewel of the country, ultimately attempting to take away our constitutional right to decide for ourselves who was the best candidate.
But then on election night, as I watched the coverage and slowly saw one state declared red after another, along with disbelief, I began to feel a twinge of hope – but I didn’t want to get too hopeful before I finally had to go to bed. Then, when I got online the next morning as soon as I awoke and saw the headlines and the electoral totals, I felt an explosion of hope within me.
I felt hope that I was not alone, that so many more people than what the poles showed could see what a corrupt and crooked candidate Clinton was. I felt hope that a healthcare system that had proven to be anything but affordable for my family (one that was passed by a partisan hair, unlike Social Security and Medicare, both of which had bipartisan support) would be repealed. Likewise, I was hopeful that the policies of a president who imposed his will so freely through executive orders and presidential memoranda (executive orders by a different name) were coming to an end.
I was hopeful that we would have a president who would not be afraid to call it like it is, instead of catering to the masses and telling them what they want to hear or using the situation to finagle party votes, as Obama did with the fabricated “hands up don’t shoot” story of Michael Brown’s death, a lie perpetuated by the president and the mainstream media. I was hopeful that the absurd extent of political correctness in this country would be reigned in, that acts of terror by Islamic extremists would be called acts of terror by Islamic extremists. I was hopeful that we would have a president willing to take the actions necessary to keep this country safer from acts of terror instead of worrying about hurting people’s feelings.
I was hopeful that the most asinine system of education – Common Core – would come to an end. (It’s funny how many teachers hate it but how few knew that Trump opposed Common Core and wanted to end it). I was hopeful that someone who has known and succeeded in business was going to take a different approach to our economy and national debt, because the politicians before him certainly dug an enormous hole. I was hopeful that the federal government would not be giving free higher education to high school graduates, because I know it would diminish what it means to get a college degree; plus, too many students would start college on the tax payer’s dollar but would quit before obtaining a degree. (It already happens too often with the lottery scholarship programs established in many states now; fortunately, that money does not come out of taxes).
On the morning of November 9, I felt real hope, because our country was able to resist the full-frontal attack of the mainstream media to decide for us who would be president. We still held on to our constitutional right to decide for ourselves which candidate would receive our votes. This proved that we still had control of our elections. And finally, I felt true hope on that morning, because, despite the character flaws of Donald Trump – and we were shown so many of them – we elected someone who was not a career politician, someone who had not previously served in public office. When this country was founded, the position of president was not supposed to be reserved for career politicians who knew how to work the system. It was meant for different members of the community with different fields of expertise to serve their country in that leadership role of public service and then pass the duty on to someone else, a person likely of a different profession. That’s what it was meant to be, and that’s what it should be.
So if a politically incorrect, blunt, unpolished, flaw-riddled business man who has never held office can be elected president, I have hope that we can dispose of this notion that we need politicians with experience in office to lead our country. If Trump can be president, then so can a doctor, or a scientist, or a professor, or a banker, or another businessman or woman – any successful person, despite race or gender.
I have the most hope that we can take this country out of the hands of the politicians and put it back into the hands of we, the people.
So as the Obamas leave office, setting their trail ablaze behind them as they go, I want to reiterate that, despite their arrogant belief that we cannot go on without them, there is hope after the “hope” of the Obama administration. A lot of it. We will continue. We will do our jobs. We will persevere. And, as a community, we will make it . . . hopefully even better than before.