On Sunday, Sept. 17 four American college students who were studying abroad in France were attacked with acid while traveling in Marseille. I’m sure this story has already faded in the 24-hour news cycle, but I think it warrants another day in print due to the responses of the outstanding girls involved.


First, I would like to take a moment to not label them victims. People who label themselves victims often get stuck in the comfort of victimization—a position of pity that allots a moral high ground. I hesitate before calling them survivors. Yes, the girls—and many people who have faced abuse, mistreatment or acts of hatred—are both victims and survivors in a sense, but I prefer to call them something different. They are witnesses, people who have stood and observed something malignant, something raw or something real. And in the case of these four Boston College students, they have used what they witnessed to make the world a more understanding place. I was blown away by the forgiveness and compassion of these four ladies, who announced that they forgave their assailant, because “mental illness is not a choice.” The four girls made zero attempts to garner attention and chose to not postpone their lives in the wake of fear, instead remaining in Europe to continue their studies and travels.


As a woman in my low-twenties who participated in a scholarly program in France this summer, I was at first horrified to hear about what happened to these ladies, and frankly a bit relieved to be in my home country. The decision of the students to stay in Europe and continue their studies struck me as incredibly brave and mature, and made me realize that the world is volatile and unpredictable and safety is never guaranteed. These women refused to let the act of one individual alter what was likely a dream trip for them, nor did they allow it to cloud their opinion of the wonderful and beautiful country of France.


Lastly, let’s examine what these ladies said about mental illness. I know my generation gets a lot of flack. Yes, social media is a perfect platform for narcissism and brainless fodder, and yes millennial snowflakes do exist, but I am continually impressed by how outspoken, courageous, open-minded and accepting many in my generation are. Something I love about youth these days is their determination to fight for justice and equality. Forgiving the woman for her attack shed such a mature and compassionate understanding of mental illness, which is still stigmatized by many. Not to say that older generations don’t show such understanding; I’m merely congratulating millenials for using their plugged-in platforms to achieve some good.


And this branches me into one more topic I want to discuss, which was e-mailed to me in the weekly frenzy of news articles and features vying to land in papers. One article stuck out to me—a piece voicing concern that the federal budget for 2018 might hurt Americans living with HIV/AIDS, which encompasses 1.1 million fellow citizens. It stated that millennials no longer view AIDS as a death sentence, but rather categorize it as a “disorder.” This made me tremendously happy. I have always been a huge proponent of erasing the stigma of HIV/AIDS, which I was disheartened to learn that one-fourth of Americans still think can be spread by sharing a drinking glass.


In conclusion, I’m proud of how much we are all continuing to develop as people. Our minds are constantly evolving as our viewpoints are consistently being challenged. Every day we have the ability to expand as people. What have you witnessed? No matter how disheartening, hopefully it can be an opportunity to grow.


Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at epolini@heralddemocrat.com to let her know.