I didn't know him very well but William Smeltz, known around here as Will, was part of our neighborhood. I spoke to him from time to time when he visited his teen-age buddies here at the small apartment complex that I manage. Will was a part of our community.

Even though he attended Lake Oswego High School for only a few days before his alleged suicide, he was enrolled and attending classes. This made him part of that community as well.

According to my two sons, a senior and a freshman, Will was a brand-new freshman, known to only a few. Even so, it is only fitting that a dear life cut short should be properly remembered. After all, this is how a community comes to terms with such a loss.

If we fail to recognize Will's life and his death, both life and death are devalued and both his life and his death take on the appearance of a 'non-event.'

Will's grieving family is entitled to privacy. We wish them God's blessings and the gentle healing that time and love will bring. Yet, while we respect their privacy we also have an obligation to Will, to our students and to our community to acknowledge his passing, deal with the loss and in so doing recognize and affirm the inestimable value of each and every life.

Sadly, I have heard from several sources that knew Will and his family, that he 'absolutely hated school.' Apparently he was the object of continued teasing. I'm told that he came home from school recently having not eaten his sack lunch. His explanation is most revealing. Will said he didn't eat his lunch because he couldn't stand the teasing.

Are we to blame? Are we responsible? Are we connected in any way to any of this. The answer is yes. William made his own decisions but we must share part of the burden.

Civility, good will, kindness, respect, and so on, are the foundation stones of Western society. If we fail to practice, teach, and require these, we will lose them altogether. Therefore we must take notice of Will. We must remember him in life and try to understand his untimely death.

Perhaps the time is ripe to ponder the tragedy of this desperate, unthinkable event and implore everyone, every precious, dear, child (plus students who might actually be over the age of 18) that they are loved, respected, valued and held in high esteem, regardless of their age, class standing, social standing, economic bracket or social skills.

We must remind our students without reservation that they have a unique and irreplaceable gift that the world is eagerly waiting for. We must remind them that each individual, unique, without equal, is an integral part of life on planet Earth, part of a greater whole that extends to edges of time, space and imagination. We must shower those about us with enthusiasm, optimism and the unquenchable fire of self-determination.

We are a nation of free people because we are an educated people and a people of conscience. Surely the bitter loss of William Smeltz is a topic that deserves attention and contemplation. Surely we should all take a moment for William and for ourselves and learn.

Brice H. Kenny is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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