Editorial: Leave drinks out of plans for graduation

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Bill Clinton was president. The movie “Titanic” was sailing through theaters, and an English author named J.K. Rowling was about to become an international sensation with a character named Harry Potter. In the obituary column: Princess Diana, Mother Theresa and Jimmy Stewart. Meanwhile, a fresh crop of little ones was about to enter kindergarten.

This weekend and next, they’ll graduate from high school. And with that comes the traditional gatherings with family and friends celebrating one of life’s milestones.

Make it a beginning, not an end.

Sadly, no matter what we say here, one of those still-so-fresh lives could come to an abrupt end. We might hear about it — a horrific accident somewhere — and we’ll pray that it isn’t someone we know. 

It’ll be caused by alcohol.

Despite all the education, warnings and laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages to persons under 21 years of age, some young people will have a generous supply of beer and booze at their disposal to “celebrate” because there are, unfortunately, irresponsible adults out there who will happily provide it. You know it happens. What the heck, you only graduate from high school once, right?

But the good news is this: A 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among 12-to-20-year-olds, reported rates of past month consumption, binge drinking and heavy alcohol use declined between 2002 and 2008. And since 1982, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the United States decreased 44 percent; among persons younger than 21, these fatalities have decreased 71 percent, according to statistics from The Century Council, a national, independent, not-for-profit organization headquartered in Arlington, Va.

These are positive signs that the messages regarding underage drinking and drunken driving are having an impact. That’s not to say the problem has gone away. It hasn’t. According to an annual survey of U.S. youth provided by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, three-fourths of high school seniors, more than two-thirds of sophomores, and about two in every five eighth-graders have consumed alcohol.

The Institute also reports that each year, approximately 5,000 people younger than 21 die as a result of underage drinking — and it’s not just from highway fatalities. While 1,900 deaths can be attributed to motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 are as a result of homicides, 300 are from suicide, and hundreds more from other injuries such as falls, burns and drownings.

While most parents do indeed act responsibly, it only takes one foolhardy adult — there are a few in every community — to become a catalyst for calamity. Graduation weekend can be the perfect storm, especially when alcohol is mixed with youthful exuberance, fond farewells and celebration. That can lead to bad decisions.  And worse.

By all means, celebrate this milestone. For parents, it was only yesterday when they sent their precious cargo off on the big yellow bus to discover their dreams. For graduates, it’s been a lifetime.

Don’t let it end there.