Turning on the news has become an event for which I have to seriously brace myself. The world is hurting, from Syria to Egypt to Stockholm. On the homefront, Congress is in chaos, hateful rhetoric has become mainstream, and everyday citizens seem more divided than ever. Millennials are a much-maligned group, but when I need to be encouraged, I look to them. A prime example of what I’m referring to is what’s happening at a high school in Florida, recently featured in On the Road with Steve Hartman (as part of the CBS Evening News it doesn’t pain me to watch).
Denis Estimon, now a senior at Boca Raton Community High School, created the student group “We Dine Together” with one purpose: that no one would have to eat lunch alone. Group members roam the dining area in search of kids who look like they might need a friend. They shake hands, introduce themselves, and sit and talk. If the student is interested, they invite them to eat lunch with them in a nearby classroom.
It’s a small gesture, but it can mean the world. Estimon knows this firsthand. As an immigrant from Haiti, he entered first grade knowing absolutely no one. As a popular student, it would have been easy for Estimon to forget what it was like to be a new student. Instead, he founded a club and recruited football players, cheerleaders, and others at the top of the high school food chain to make his school a place where anyone who wants friendship and inclusion can have them without having to change who they are.
Can a little lunch club do all that? Actually, yes it can. The lunchroom can be an incredibly isolating place. There’s a social hierarchy that “must” be observed, and exclusive cliques make it hard for new students to make friends. In the teen world, students who dare to be different may be ostracized. Given the current political climate and with the specter of deportation over their heads, refugee and immigrant students may be worried about the well-being of their families and their own futures. According to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey, 75% of transgender students feel unsafe at school. So, yes, a little hospitality can go a long way.
When I’m feeling disheartened by the direction our country is going, I take comfort in knowing that the upcoming generation is the most tolerant and progressive in history. I trust the kids who are making the lives of their classmates better to handle the problems of the future with kindness, dignity, and compassion.