The Obamas quietly said what Trump couldn't in a letter to Parkland students.

A letter from Barack and Michelle Obama following the Parkland shooting has proven to be a powerful exposition about how the student survivors inspire them.

And the Obamas' response to the Feb. 14 attack in turn has stirred the political activism of Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School students in a way that's caught the attention of the nation.

The private letter to students dated March 10 was released to the public on March 21. The timing of its release comes just days before the March for Our Lives rallies are set to take place on March 24 around the nation.


"Not only have you supported and comforted each other, but you’ve helped awaken the conscience of the nation, and challenged decision-makers to make the safety of our children the country’s top priority," they wrote.

They didn't shy away from reminding students how hard advocating for gun reform can be.

Most reactions to the Parkland students' activism has been positive. But many have made attacks on their character and motivations, which is an understandably difficult thing for anyone — much less a teen — to endure. And perhaps more importantly, the students are becoming increasingly aware of just how difficult it is to move federal lawmakers into action, even when the overwhelming majority of voters are behind their cause.

The Obamas know that feeling all too well; the former president was unable to pass any meaningful gun violence reform while in office. "There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming," they advised. "But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you."

Even though they've been out of the White House for more than a year, the Obamas are quietly continuing to play the role of "first family" in many situations.

Even most supporters of President Donald Trump would acknowledge that empathy is not his strongest suit. That has left the Obamas in an interesting place, where they occasionally find themselves unofficially playing the roles of comforters-in-chief.

They've clearly been very careful to not get in the way of Trump's role as POTUS. But sometimes the nation just needs a collective hug or pat on the back, and that's something both Michelle and Barack are exceptionally good at.

Photo by Pete Souza/Official White House Photo via Share America.

The Obamas' letter is a necessary reminder that we should encourage students to use their voices.

Student activism has a long history in the United States, from opposing the Vietnam War to more recent causes like Black Lives Matter. You don't even have to agree with the Parkland high schoolers' cause to know it's vital that we give our nation's youth the time and space to find their respective voices.

As the Obamas wrote, "Throughout our history, young people like you have led the way in making America better."

After all, the children (or in this case, teens) are literally our future. And a society of informed and engaged citizens is one that's better for everyone.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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