As stark as that sentence is for readers, the reality behind it is infinitely starker, more heartbreaking, and far more unbearable for Grace’s parents, sisters, family and friends.
Grace took her own life after several months of venomous cyber bullying/bullying at the hands of a fellow schoolmate, supported by his friends, and witnessed by many, many others who chose to remain silent. With malice aforethought these teens intentionally aimed a most lethal weapon at a fragile girl’s heart: cruel and hateful words. They did this mainly through the Internet, via Twitter. And in the process…they turned “social” media into anti-social media. It is a fact difficult to comprehend on so many levels. I don’t have all the details, only a thousand questions. Why don’t kids comprehend the cruelty of their actions? Don’t they understand that their amplified voice on the Internet means magnified pain for the victim? Are they really incapable of putting themselves in the victim’s place? Where were the parents of the perpetrators? Where are the boundaries, the guidelines, the good examples? Haven’t there already been enough nationally publicized stories of teen suicide due to bullying to serve as cautionary tales for both victims and perpetrators?
How could this happen?
And what does any of it have to do with Notre Dame? Well, a great deal, actually. You see, four of Grace’s cousins are students at Notre Dame and they are determined to do everything they can to put an end to bullying. To make sure that what happened to Grace never happens to anyone else. To do nothing less than save lives. It is a daunting task, but I have met the NDP McComas girls, and I believe they are up to it. Spearheaded by sophomore Michaela McComas and supported by her sister, freshman Caroline McComas and their cousins, junior Haley and sophomore Katie McComas, the McComas Cousins have come up with a beautiful plan to honor Grace, counteract bullying, and use the power of the Internet and social media to spread love, not hate. Together, they created a Facebook event called Kindness for Grace, to be held on October 9th…what would have been Grace’s 16th birthday. The tagline for the event is “striving for a gracious cyber space” and the goal is to get as many people as possible to e-mail, send, tweet or post an uplifting message to someone who needs a kind word. As the flyer for the event states, “Use the Internet to brighten someone’s day.” The McComas girls organized the event all on their own, with the blessing of Grace’s family and their parents, and with the support of NDP. Notre Dame knows it is not completely immune to such tragedies. The power of the Internet outruns society’s efforts to come to grips with it. But the Notre Dame community takes comfort in the fact that it is different, that it does teach a message of love, and that any hint of bullying – in or out of school – by an NDP student will not be tolerated. In a show of support, flyers advertising Kindness for Grace have been posted throughout NDP and the McComas girls have challenged the entire school body to spread words of love and encouragement via the Internet on that day and beyond. The Kindness for Grace campaign has received local and national media attention, and has garnered support from people all over the United States, including a school in Iowa, which will partner with the McComas’s in their effort. Grace’s story also caught the attention of Ravens star, Ray Rice who was moved to start his “Ray of Hope” program, a “pro-kindness, anti-bullying, teen suicide” outreach program.
I am reminded of a documentary I saw on PBS a few years ago called, “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” 9/11 survivors, heroes, and witnesses were interviewed about the experience. One woman commented on the miracle of the aftermath of that terrible event. She spoke about how much preparation went into the attacks. How much hate and venom must have built up in the terrorists to keep them going through years of planning. How they never stopped to question themselves. And then, she talked about how, on 9/12, only one day after the attacks, with no planning whatsoever, thousands of people flocked to the site bearing food and blankets and water and supplies and words of comfort and hope to anyone in need. It was a potent concept. Out of a searing and destructive and intentional hate came a powerful, creative and spontaneous love. The young McComas girls reminded me again of the power of love over hate, of forgiveness over vengeance, of hope over despair, courage over cowardice. They are a shining example of girls who “can transform the world” and 4 more reasons why I am proud to be a part of the Notre Dame family.
Though the Kindness for Grace Facebook event may be over by the time you read this blog post, you can still add words of support and raise a voice against bullying by visiting the Grace K. McComas Memorial Webpage on Facebook. And it’s never too late to send a message of kindness to someone you know. The McComas girls would like to make Kindness for Grace an annual event and would like you to make kindness a daily habit.
What would you do to put an end to cyber bullying? Bluenote welcomes your ideas and comments.