Wednesday, June 17, 2015

So much lost.....

Imagine being 21 and far from home for a summer of adventure. It is your opportunity to cut loose, away from you parents and work and have fun before going home and "settling down" to a job or a graduate program or whatever.  Who wouldn't want to do that?

Imagine, then when it all turns tragic in a horrific accident. That's what happened in Berkeley this week when 13 Irish students fell four stories when the balcony they were on gave way. Six were killed and seven more badly hurt.  Oh how my heart breaks not only for the students but for their friends and families who are left to deal with the aftermath of this calamity.

I know what it's like to lose a vibrant young adult suddenly, though I doubt anyone would equate Maggie's medical circumstance with the horror of that balcony collapsing. They are different circumstances, certainly, but the result for each of the families is not. They have each lost a vibrant young life that was just coming into its own; or, in the case of the injured, now have a very different life than they thought they would. Each has my complete sympathy and prayers.

For reasons clear only to the reporter, the New York Times decided to take a rather low road and blame the victims. and more specifically, the J-1 visa program that allowed them to come here to work for the summer, calling it an "embarrassment to Ireland" - a comment to which the  Irish government takes great exception  (Here's the article.)

Wow. Really? All those kids did was go to a 21st birthday party.

They were partying.
They were Irish.
So It must be their fault.

It's a tired and unfair stereotype.

Presumably if it wasn't Irish students on that balcony it would have been an entire family, or a group of kids from another country. Then who do you blame? The balcony didn't hold as it was supposed to. I don't know why, but it certainly wasn't the fault of those kids and blaming them or their program is patently unfair.

That is a cheap shot for sure and just beneath the dignity of the New York Times. It's akin to the trolls who leave mean spirited comments on the Internet hiding behind their anonymity.  The paper is under attack for this and has already issued a half hearted apology, but the whole thing is really foul.

The J-1 visa program is a wonderful thing. It allows students to experience a few months or a year or whatever amount of time in the US and allows them to work and see what it's really like to be here. It is legal and not really costing us anything. These students arrive, pay rent, get jobs, spend money, have fun and go home. It's a win win win. Why would that come under attack?

In 1984 I was clerking in a law firm for the Summer and two lads arrived from Ireland through that same J-1 visa program. They worked with me at the same firm. It was easily the most enjoyable three months that I spent as a lawyer or law clerk. Did we work hard? Certainly. Did we have fun? Why yes we did! We were young and had a good summer job and fortunately no one judged us by any of our wild activities that summer.

That was 31 years ago and I am still connected to both of them today. They went back to Ireland and "settled down" just as they were supposed to. They took the great experience of that summer and went back, grew up and lived their lives.   They are now a judge and a captain of industry. So they done good. One of them eventually moved to the US and raised his family here.We stayed with the other while in Ireland last year and he designed our fantastic trip through the West of Ireland. They are my life long friends and I never would have met either of them without that program.

I know of at least thirteen young travelers who won't get that chance because that balcony broke. That's sad for them, their families, and their friends who weren't physically hurt but are affected by this tragedy. And it's sad for the connections they would have made here in the Bay Area. It's been a great 31 years for me and I'm sorry for those who will miss out on that.


  1. Sally, thank you for bringing this to light. So sad to see the loss of young lives full of hope and promise.

  2. Baffles me why those disparaging remarks had to be interspersed with the simple reporting of the tragedy. It was not the time or place for that info to be brought up. Shame on NYT and that reporter. Poor taste. No class.


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