I have been contributing less here lately, partly due to a death in the family which has made me feel as if we human are pitiful creatures that crawl around on this obscure rock in a Solar System located in the suburbs of the Milky Way for a short time and then pass on – and so what was the point? I have been discouraged by the actions my generation, too, which instead of being part of the Greatest Generation (a name that Tom Brokaw gave to those who went off to fight in WWII) I belong to a cohort that will be known for its selfishness, short-sightedness, and general stupidity.
But hope springs eternal, especially on Easter morning. I want to celebrate the achievements of youth.
Let’s start with Jack Andraka, the fifteen-year-old prodigy who has made a difference in cancer detection, starting with pancreatic From an article in The Smithsonian Magazine:
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers, with a five-year survival rate of 6 percent. Some 40,000 people die of it each year. The diagnosis can be devastating because it is often delivered late, after the cancer has spread. Unlike the breast or colon, the pancreas is nestled deep in the body cavity and difficult to image, and there is no telltale early symptom or lump. “By the time you bring this to a physician, it’s too late,” says Anirban Maitra, a Johns Hopkins pathologist and pancreatic cancer researcher who is Andraka’s mentor…The ideal would be a quick and inexpensive test.
That’s exactly what Andraka may have invented: A small dipstick probe that uses just a sixth of a drop of blood appears to be much more accurate than existing approaches and takes five minutes to complete. It’s still preliminary, but drug companies are interested, and word is spreading. “I’ve gotten these Facebook messages asking, ‘Can I have the test?’” Andraka says. “I am heartbroken to say no.”I’m sure these tests will come to the market soon, however, as well as tests for ovarian cancer and other diseases on which Andraka is working. Let’s hope that they cost us what they should – a few dollars – instead of the thousands that the health industry wants to charge.
The Smithsonian magazine article is worth reading, for it makes it clear that young Andraka’s achievement took work and that he suffered frustration and setbacks. He needed the moral and practical support of his parents.
A more typical story can be found in Michael Bennett, who at fourteen is already a master organ player:
This child prodigy from Chapel Hill started playing the violin at the age of 3 and was jamming on the guitar by the time he was 4.We're all familiar with musical prodigies, but they do not happen in a vacuum. These kids need support from family and friends and instructors or their music dies unheard.
At the age of 10, Bennett was invited to play the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ – the world’s largest instrument - in Philadelphia.
Now, this master organ player is heading to New York with an invitation to attend a pre-collegiate program at the world-renowned Juilliard school for the arts.
Nearly everyone knows the story of Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban for trying to go to school. This piece from ABC tells how she's now writing a book.
Malala Yousafzai, 15, says she wants her book, "I Am Malala," to reveal and help children across the world who still struggle to get to school.Certainly Malala has had the support of her family, but obviously a significant part of her society was against her.
"I want to tell my story, but it will also be the story of 61 million children who can't get education," she said in a statement released by her British publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson. "I want it to be part of the campaign to give every boy and girl the right to go to school. It is their basic right."
We should remember that there are plenty of kids struggling to get an education – worldwide and in the US. If we help them instead stopping them – or merely turning away out of indifference – they may go on to achieve great things.
Of course, in some cases the kids don’t survive, as in the twenty children who were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. They may have been too young to become scientists or musicians or activists. But no one is too young to die.
What stories can you share of us of young ones making a difference to the world?
Tired of politics? Need to escape? Try my Greek mythology based novels, either the story of Oedipus from the point of view of Jocasta, or a trilogy about Niobe, whose children were murdered by the gods - or were they? or one of the first stories of civil disobedience, the standoff between Antigone and her uncle, King Creon of Thebes? Or, if you like mysteries and Jane Austen, try
The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma.