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Teenagers — A blight or a blessing?

June 5, 2014 - Dorothy McKnight
GLADSTONE — Any parent with teenagers can readily attest to the fact that they are not always easy to get along with — particularly the relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters. Although it’s been many years since my two daughters were teenagers, I’ve seen the same scenarios (rolling eyes, dismissive shrugs, impatient hands on the hips and other “attitudes”) played out with my two granddaughters and their mothers, as well as the daughters of my other family members and friends.

One of my friends was having an altercation with her daughter recently and I jokingly told the teen that my mantra is that all teenagers should be drowned at birth. Her first response was a “humph” in my direction, but it was soon followed by a puzzled stare. “How can that happen?” she asked.

But lest you think that I’m anti-teen, I’m not. In fact, in my job as feature writer, some of the most touching and unforgettable stories I’ve done have involved teenagers. I recently had the privilege of speaking at a Senior Living Conference and I was asked to talk about my job and it was suggested that I share some of my favorite stories I had written. While I was preparing, five stories readily came to mind as my favorites. Interestingly enough, two of them were about teenage girls, two were about veterans (I love talking to and writing about veterans), and the fifth was a story about teenagers and veterans together.

My absolutely favorite story involved Gladstone High School graduate, Tara Lahtinen. When she was just a teen, she learned about a 3-year-old girl in Green Bay who had a serious brain tumor. The child adored anything “Barbie.” Tara, being a tall, gorgeous blond, talked it over with her mom about visiting the little girl, pretending she was the real live Barbie. Arrangements were made between Tara and the little girl’s gramma. When the big day arrived, Tara dressed up in her prom dress and a tiara and prepared a sash with the words “Barbie” written across the front, and went to the child’s home.

One can only imagine the excitement and anticipation on the part of that little girl. Her gramma later told me about it in a phone conversation. Tara spent the entire afternoon with the girl and even crawled into the child’s “Barbie” house — prom dress and all — to play.

I can’t tell you how emotional it was for me to listen to Tara relate the story and even later when speaking to the little girl’s gramma. Even though it’s been about 10 years ago since this happened, It still makes me all choked up whenever I happen to come across the story and read it all over again.

I’ve since learned the child died when she was about 8 years old and it makes me sad that she didn’t survive her illness. However, I can’t help but think of the joy that Tara provided for her for just those few hours in her life. I’m sure she told Jesus all about it when she arrived in Heaven.

The second story involved a group of teenage girls from Escanaba High School who volunteered to go over to the Bay Pines Detention Center in Escanaba, where they house juvenile offenders from throughout the state. The center was putting on a prom for the teens and the local girls went over and spent the day helping the girls with their hair and makeup in preparation for the prom.

I watched as the high schoolers fussed over these girls (maybe a first experience for some of them), working magic with their blow dryers, curling irons and cram-packed makeup cases. My only regret was that I was unable to photograph the inmates in a way that could identify them. Somehow words weren’t sufficient to relate to the Press readers the absolutely joy on the faces of these young girls as they looked at their own transformation in the mirror for the first time. But theirs wasn’t the only joy. It was wonderful to see the expression on the local teens as they observed the happiness they had brought to the girls who were, before that day, total strangers. I can’t help but believe it was life-changing for all of them.

My third story also involved Escanaba High School teenagers (boys and girls alike) on their graduation day a number of years ago. Upon learning that there were scores of area veterans — many of them from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — who had dropped out of school to go into military service to fight in these wars. When they returned from combat, almost without exception, they didn’t go back to school but instead went straight into the workplace.

I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but these teens decided to share their big day with any area veteran who wanted to finally get their high school diploma. My husband, Jim, who quit school while in the twelfth grade and joined the Army during the Vietnam era, and Jim’s brother, Leroy, who served after World War II, decided to take part.

One of my most profound images was seeing those aging veterans — many with canes, walkers and even in wheelchairs — make their way down the aisles and across the front of the platform to receive their long-awaited diplomas. Of course by now, many of these veterans had long since retired and having the diploma didn’t have any impact on their respective careers, but seeing the smiles on their faces as they held on to their diplomas and later posed proudly for pictures with family members and friends was priceless.

But just as wonder was seeing the faces of the teens as they cheered each veteran as his name was read and his diploma awarded.

What a thrill it was to think of these kids who were so very willing to share their special day with men most of whom they had never met before. ALL were blessed, as well as myself to be granted the privilege of watching.

How wonderful it is to know there are multiple thousands of teenagers across this country with similar stories to tell of how they made a difference in the lives of total strangers. May God (and their parents) bless them all!!!


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Dorothy McKnight