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These 5 hilariously ridiculous rules are why our tax system favors the rich.

Since the first federal progressive income tax was introduced in 1913, most Americans have fairly assumed that, come mid-April, the more money you earn, the more money you pay.

Rage! Photo via iStock.

But, oh boy, does it ever not work that way.


Examples of stupendously wealthy people paying hilariously low percentages of their income in taxes aren't hard to track down. See, for example, Warren Buffet paying a lower tax rate than his secretary or Donald Trump paying an effective tax rate of 25% in 2005 — far lower than the top marginal rate that  year of 35% — despite earning $150 million.

If the tax code had been designed by, say, a coalition of teachers, construction workers, and fry cooks, things might be different. Unfortunately, the laws determining who pays what and why are written by members of Congress, who, as of 2012, had a median net worth of just a wee bit over $1 million. From their perspective, it's not hard to see that "How can I structure the tax code to make buying gas and going to the doctor a little more affordable?" might be a less pressing question than, say, "Should solid gold busts of Ayn Rand be deductible?"

To be sure, many rich people do pay more in taxes than middle- or working-class Americans, just less more than they might otherwise. And it's hard to blame the wealthy for taking full advantage of a system designed to benefit them. Don't hate the player, the saying goes, hate the game.

The Game probably pays a lower effective tax rate than you. Photo by Eva Rinaldi/Flickr (cropped).

But the game, such as it is, is rigged (SAD!).

So while most of us prepare to part with around a third of our hard-earned cash trying to decide if it's legal to write off as a business expense the $13.79 in tissues we bought to wipe away our tears, here are some of the rules that make it easier for the wealthy to play.

1. There's a tax break for vacation homes.

Let's say you live in a tiny apartment in a major American city, paying your landlord hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a month to sleep in a glorified coat closet. You typically don't get to write off your rent on your federal taxes.

Your rent. Photo via iStock.

But if you were among those privileged enough to have the means to buy a house or condo or downtown triplex with a sweet view, you would get to deduct the interest you'd pay on your mortgage.

"OK sure," you might be thinking, "People who can buy houses are generally doing better financially than those who can't, but there are a lot of homeowners in America, and I hope to be one someday." And that's true, so far as it goes.

If you're really doing well, however, one house might not be enough. Sometimes you just have to spring for that little fixer-upper in the Poconos or that sprawling beach compound in the Outer Banks or that $90-million condo on 5th Avenue.

So close to the Apple Store! Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

In that case, you get to deduct the interest on the mortgage for your second house too!

As far as tax breaks that favor the already-pretty-damn-favored are concerned, the second home deduction is, alas, one of the more egalitarian, as it advantages both the only-sort-of-rich and the ridiculously rich — and you can only write off a total of $1.1 million in debt. Furthermore, the rule doesn't apply if you're so rich you just buy the house outright, nor does it apply to the third, fourth, ninth, and 12th homes owned by your average Gates, Bloombergs, and Zuckerbergs.

But the fact remains that taking out mortgages on more than one house gets you federal tax relief, while renting a studio apartment, mobile home, or infuriatingly twee tiny house doesn't.

Thanks to the U.S. tax code, it owns to own.

2. If you're rich enough to buy a yacht, you can probably write off a big chunk of it.

What makes a house a home? A cozy reading nook by the fire? Happy memories? The love and affection of all those you hold near and dear?

According to the U.S. tax code, if you can eat, sleep, and pee in it, it's a home — which means that this:

...counts as a home, making it eligible for the mortgage interest tax break.

Some politicians have tried to exempt yachts from the second home deduction in recent years. It hasn't happened yet, partly because there are an absurd number of ways to get out of paying your full share of taxes on your yacht. Some states go out of their way to make superboats more affordable to your average Koch brother, DeVos sibling, or Soros quintuplet by capping the amount of sales tax you have to pay on them.

(L-R) George, Brad, Benghazi, Obamaphone, and #HillaryDid9/11 Soros. Photos by VCG/Getty Image, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images, Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Even better, if you rent out your yacht to slightly less wealthy people some of the time, you can usually deduct the whole purchase price and some of the insurance and maintenance fees as a business expense.

Pretty sweet! You should probably get a yacht!

3. While people who earn high salaries pay more in income tax, many wealthy people make a lot of non-salary income, and that's taxed at a lower rate.

If you're a single person making $1 million in salary, you're paying the top federal income tax rate — which for 2016 means 39.6% on every dollar over $415,050. That's way lower than it was in 1944, when the top rate was a whopping 94%. It's even lower than just over 30 years ago during the early years of the Reagan administration, when the top earners were paying 50%. Still, it's a solid chunk of change. Mercifully, for many super wealthy Americans, only a small portion of their annual income comes from working at an actual salaried job.

Enter capital gains!

"Money?" "Money." "Money money." "Money?" "MONEY!" Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The best part about already having a buttload of money is that your money can make you even more money. If you're rich, you can take the cash you already have and invest it — in stock, or real estate, or apps called Moob that deliver fish bones to elderly Methodists, or what have you. And the best part? The cash you make when your assets post a gain is taxed at a mere 15-20%. That means if your trust fund does well, or if your 15th home increases in value, you might pay a lower tax rate on that gain than a nurse's aide pays on her $18/hour salary.

If that tax rate seems unfair, then you obviously haven't heard about the Newtian Pository. It's a philosophical concept I just made up that means "hahahahaha screw you and your 'job' that pays you a 'barely living wage.' If you want to get ahead in life, stop crying and own a landfill, or a Monet, or a bunch of Google, you dingbat!"

4. Rich people who own a lot of stock don't have to pay taxes on it if it increases in value — as long as they die before selling it.

Teddy is survived by his son Teddy Jr., his fifth wife Polankia, and a $75 million portfolio. Photo via iStock.

This is called "step-up in basis," one of those purposely complicated phrases used to obscure a pretty simple concept that would send poor people in the direction of the nearest flaming pitchfork store if anyone ever decided to, you know, actually explain it clearly.

So I'm gonna try to do that, by way of a totally hypothetical example.

Imagine you're a hard-charging New York City real estate billionaire type — "Ronald Bump," let's say. You buy 100,000 shares of stock at $1/share. To do this, you lay out $100,000 — an entire life savings for some, but chump change to a member of the Bump dynasty.

Let's say you, Ronald Bump, get lucky, and over the next 30 years, the stock increases in value to $100/share. Your $100,000 has magically become $10 million! If you sell it, you'd net a cool $9.9 million — but you'd pay taxes on it (albeit at the previously mentioned, already ludicrously low capital gains rate), leaving you with a mere $7.4 million or thereabouts.

But let's say you don't sell, and one day, when you're out grabbing a caviar bagel with gold leaf cream cheese, you get hit by a bus.

The Bus of Tragedy. Photo by Adam E. Moreira/Wikimedia Commons.

The bus really does a number on you, flattening your legs, rib cage, and most of your vital organs. Then, trying to determine the cause of the light whump that momentarily inconvenienced its passengers, the bus backs up, pancaking your head. Finally, seeing no cause for special concern, it speeds away, running you over a third time, knocking your body into a ditch to be eaten by crows.

How horrible. You're dead now.

Because you're dead, your son — let's call him Ronald Bump Jr. — inherits your giant portfolio. ​When he sells it​, he only has to pay taxes on any gains the investment makes beyond the $9.9 million — regardless that the stock was originally purchased for just $100,000. He can go his merry way a full almost-$10 million richer, convinced of his own singular brilliance, free to hunt endangered mammals and approvingly reply to racists on Twitter with the comfort of a nest egg to make his economic anxiety disappear.

And the meritocracy triumphantly soldiers on.

The bottom line, if you hold stock until you die and pass it on to your kids, spouse, or golden retriever, neither you, nor they ever have to pay taxes on the value it accrued in your lifetime. Pretty sweet!

5. A lot of rich families don't have to pay taxes on the money they pass on to their heirs, even though there's a tax theoretically designed to make that happen.

"We repossess about 379 of these bad boys a day. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!" — the government, probably. Image via iStock.

To hear anti-tax advocates tell it, millions of hardworking Americans are subject to an evil "death tax," whereupon soulless government brownshirts descend en masse to rip the family farm away from Junior not nine seconds after Ma and Pa's untimely death in a freakish tumbleweed accident. It's the sort of thing that gets decent people riled up, demanding answers and installing electric fencing around their property. How could Uncle Sam be so heartless? So cruel? So greedy?

The thing is, most Americans aren't wealthy enough to be subjected to the "death tax" — more properly known as the estate tax. If you leave a small retirement account, family home, or a couple of used toasters and $50 to your kids when you pass away, the IRS won't send you an invoice.

The tax only applies to estates being passed down that are worth over $5.4 million. So unless Ma and Pa's farmhouse looks like this:

You're probably not going to see a tax on it.

Yes, super rich people — your aforementioned Gates, Bloomberg and Zuckerberg dynasties  — do have to pay estate taxes, and thank Zod. And, yes, it's good that middle class families don't have to pay it. Meanwhile, lots of pretty rich people (albeit not Gates, Bloomberg, or Zuckerberg rich) are making out great under the current system, even as activists try to do away with the tax altogether, because the net worth limit for when the tax kicks in is so high that those families don't have to pay anything at all either — which allows dynastic wealth to keep on piling up.

As recently as 2004, the estate tax kicked in at $1.5 million. The current limit of $5.4 million is, frankly, a crap-ton of money to be able to pass down tax-free.

Even without such a high estate tax threshold, kids would be able to keep using the heirloom kitchen appliances long after their parents are gone.

Unfortunately, with the limit currently in the stratosphere, it also means that Junior can keep up the Kobe beef farm as he rides his platinum-hulled tractor into the sunset.

Considering all the deductions, loopholes, and advantages already in place, it's sort of weird that Congress' next priority is to reduce the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans even more.

After Republicans wrap up their will-they-or-won't-they dance with the American Health Care Act, Congress plans to tackle "tax reform," so-called because it "reforms" more money into the pockets of rich people. Among the proposed changes to the tax code: lowering the top income tax rate from 39.6% to 33%, lowering the corporate tax rate to 20%, and completely eliminating the estate tax.

Someday son, much of this will be yours, tax free! Photo via iStock.

But as we've seen numerous times these past few months, America doesn't have to let it happen!

Calling your representatives worked to scuttle the first go-around of the AHCA, and it can work to put the kibosh on the current tax reform plan too.

It won't be easy. But after helping kill a suspect federal law, and finishing and filing your taxes, you'll definitely have earned a nice vacation.

May I suggest buying a yacht?"

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


Photographer James Balog and his crew were hanging out near a glacier when their camera captured something extraordinary.

They were in Greenland, gathering footage from the time-lapse they'd positioned all around the Arctic Circle for the last several years.


They were also there to shoot scenes for a documentary. And while they were hoping to capture some cool moments on camera, no one expected a huge chunk of a glacier to snap clean off and slide into the ocean right in front of their eyes.


science, calving, glaciers

A glacier falls into the sea.

assets.rebelmouse.io

ocean swells, sea level, erosion, going green

Massive swells created by large chunks of glacier falling away.

assets.rebelmouse.io

It was the largest such event ever filmed.

For nearly an hour and 15 minutes, Balog and his crew stood by and watched as a piece of ice the size of lower Manhattan — but with ice-equivalent buildings that were two to three times taller than that — simply melted away.

geological catastrophe, earth, glacier melt

A representation demonstrating the massive size of ice that broke off into the sea.

assets.rebelmouse.io

As far as anyone knows, this was an unprecedented geological catastrophe and they caught the entire thing on tape. It won't be the last time something like this happens either.

But once upon a time, Balog was openly skeptical about that "global warming" thing.

Balog had a reputation since the early 1980s as a conservationist and environmental photographer. And for nearly 20 years, he'd scoffed at the climate change heralds shouting, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

"I didn't think that humans were capable of changing the basic physics and chemistry of this entire, huge planet. It didn't seem probable, it didn't seem possible," he explained in the 2012 documentary film "Chasing Ice."

There was too much margin of error in the computer simulations, too many other pressing problems to address about our beautiful planet. As far as he was concerned, these melodramatic doomsayers were distracting from the real issues.

That was then.

Greenland, Antarctica, glacier calving

The glacier ice continues to erode away.

assets.rebelmouse.io

In fact, it wasn't until 2005 that Balog became a believer.

He was sent on a photo expedition of the Arctic by National Geographic, and that first northern trip was more than enough to see the damage for himself.

"It was about actual tangible physical evidence that was preserved in the ice cores of Greenland and Antarctica," he said in a 2012 interview with ThinkProgress. "That was really the smoking gun showing how far outside normal, natural variation the world has become. And that's when I started to really get the message that this was something consequential and serious and needed to be dealt with."

Some of that evidence may have been the fact that more Arctic landmass has melted away in the last 20 years than the previous 10,000 years.

Watch the video of the event of the glacier calving below:

This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

IMDB,Condé Nast/Wikipedia

The pop star said that this could help create safer environments for young performers.

Even in the healthiest of work environments, child actors are thrust into adult life before they’ve really had a chance to grow up. They don’t have the coping mechanisms for dealing with the stresses of fame, nor do they have the skills or authority to advocate for themselves when they are being abused.

The obvious answer to this problem is to provide protections for these kids. But let’s face it: exactly how to go about creating these protections isn’t so obvious. Hollywood is only just beginning to address these long-seated issues.

However, Ariana Grande, certainly no stranger to the highs and lows of finding fame at a young age, recently suggested that one solution would be “mandatory therapy” for younger actors.

Grande, who got her big break on the Nickelodeon show “Victorious” when she was just 14, reflected on her time on the network while guest appearing on Penn Badgley’s Podcrushed podcast.

This interview comes not too long after the shocking revelations made in the docuseries “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” where former Nickelodeon stars accused former producer Dan Schnieder of a litany of abuses, including but not limited to sexual harassment and racism.

Grande did not appear on the docuseries, footage from “Victorious” was often used as an example of inappropriate content for children.

@discoveryplusuk It’s got everyone talking. #QuietOnSet #TheDarkSideOfKidsTV#nickelodeon #danschneider #90skids #arianagrande #amandabynes ♬ original sound - discoveryplusuk

"I think that’s something that we were convinced was the cool thing about us,” she reflected during the podcast. “That we pushed the envelope with our humor and innuendos. We were told — and convinced as well — that it was the cool differentiation. It all just happened so quickly and now looking back on some of the clips I’m like, ‘Thats… Damn, really?’”After “reprocessing” a lot of her experience around that time, she came to the conclusion that there should be “mandatory therapy” 2-3 times a week included in a young actors contract.

“There should be an element that is mandatory of therapy, a professional person to unpack what this experience of your life changing so drastically does to you at a young age,” she said, adding that this should probably be used for celebrities of all ages.

In addition, she thinks that “parents [should be] allowed to be wherever they want to be.”

"A lot of people don’t have the support that they need to get through performing at that level at such a young age. But also, dealing with some of the things that the survivors who have come forward [have]... There’s not a word for how devastating that is to hear about. So, I think the environment just needs to be made a lot safer all around.”

You can watch the podcast episode in full below:

Popular

Woman who gave her baby up for adoption gets a wonderful surprise from the new family

"You know, you can't have too many people loving you, right?”

A journal detailing Steven Schoebinger's young life.

At Upworthy, we love sharing the “best of humanity” with our audience, and this story out of Utah, originally reported by CBS News’ Steve Hartman, shows the power of love to break down barriers.

When Schauna Austin, 48, was 20 years old, she got pregnant and knew she wasn’t ready to raise a child, so she made the difficult decision to give the baby up for adoption. She gave birth to a son she named Riley and only had 3 days to spend with him before surrendering him to his new family.

So, she held him tight for 72 hours straight.

"It was perfect," Austin said about those 3 emotionally-charged days. "I knew I would have him for a short time, so I made every minute count of it. I didn't sleep for three days." It must have been tough for Austin to give up her son because the grieving process can be incredibly difficult.


Riley, renamed Steven, was given to Chris and Jennifer Schoebinger in a closed adoption, where Austin was not to be informed about the adoptive family. In Utah, closed adoptions are a rarity these days, with about 95% allowing some exchange of information between the birth and adoptive parents.

However, about a week later, the Schoebingers had a change of heart.

The Schoebingers decided Austin should be involved in Steven’s life. "It was like, 'OK, this is the way it should be. She was part of our family,'" Jennifer told CBS News. "You know, you can't have too many people loving you, right? Why couldn't he be both of ours?" Chris added.

Every year, the Schoebingers sent Austin pictures and bound journals showing Steven's journey in deep detail. They even had lists of all the new words he learned each year. The books were titled “The Life and Times of ‘Riley,’” paying homage to Steven’s original name.

The hope was that one day when the biological mother and son were ready, they could pick up where they left off. That moment came when Steven was 7 years old and Austin taught him to fish.

The unique arrangement has been fantastic for both Austin and her biological son. "I was blessed beyond words," Austin said. "I kind of got the best of both worlds, for sure," Steven agreed. It may seem like relationships between children and those who gave them up for adoption would be complicated. But studies show that 84% of adoptees reported high levels of satisfaction when maintaining ongoing contact with their birth parents.

Steven is now 27 and in August 2022, he and his wife, Kayla, had their first child, a boy they named Riley—the name Steven was originally given by his biological mother. Austin is now a grandmother.

The remarkable story of Austin and the Schoebinger family proves that when we put walls between ourselves and others, we are often blocking everyone off from more love and support. "I think the lesson we learned is that sometimes we create barriers where barriers don't need to be. And when we pull down those barriers, we really find love on the other side," Chris said.

Image by Stacey Kennedy from Pixabay

Graduation is a big milestone that can come with grief for some communities.

It's been nearly 12 years since a young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, with an AR-15. rifle and two handguns and opened fire, killing 20 first graders and six faculty members before turning the gun on himself.

Survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting—kids who watched their friends and teachers being murdered in their classrooms—are now graduating from high school, and they have complicated feelings about the milestone and the 20 classmates who aren't joining them.

A private graduation ceremony was held at Newtown High School on June 12, 2024, with 335 graduates including around 60 Sandy Hook survivors. Some of them shared their thoughts with journalists in the days leading up to graduation.


“I think we’re all super excited for the day,” Lilly Wasilnak, 17, shared with the AP. "But I think we can’t forget ... that there is a whole chunk of our class missing. And so going into graduation, we all have very mixed emotions — trying to be excited for ourselves and this accomplishment that we’ve worked so hard for, but also those who aren’t able to share it with us, who should have been able to.”

"The shooter actually came into my classroom," Emma Ehrens, 17, told CBS News. "So I had to, like, watch all my friends and teachers get killed, and I had to run for my life at six years old."

According to the AP, Ehrens was one of 11 kids who survived from Classroom 10. She was able to escape with a group of students when the shooter paused to reload his gun. Five students and both teachers in the room were killed.

“I am definitely going be feeling a lot of mixed emotions,” Ehrens said. “I’m super excited to be, like, done with high school and moving on to the next chapter of my life. But I’m also so ... mournful, I guess, to have to be walking across that stage alone. … I like to think that they’ll be there with us and walking across that stage with us.”

The survivors who are graduating this year are dealing with both the exciting what ifs of their futures and the tragic what ifs of their past as they remember their slain classmates.

"Just growing up with having the fear, and the what ifs of what could have happened if I stayed? Because I was, like, I was going to be next," Ehrens told CBS News.

"So even going to prom, you think, well, what if they were my prom date? Or, you know, what if they were my significant other? What if they were able to walk the stage with me," survivor Ella Seaver added.

“As much as we’ve tried to have that normal, like, childhood and normal high school experience, it wasn’t totally normal,” Grace Fischer, 18, told CBS. “But even though we are missing ... such a big chunk of our class, like Lilly said, we are still graduating. ... We want to be those regular teenagers who walk across the stage that day and feel that, like, celebratory feeling in ourselves, knowing that we’ve come this far.”

That desire for normalcy conflicting with their not normal childhood is part of what makes graduation such a bittersweet experience for these young people. They had so much taken from them at such a young age, and that trauma doesn't just disappear. Some of the students expressed that they are looking forward to moving away from Newtown and building a life in which the school shooting doesn't define them.

Sandy Hook was unique in that the victims were so young and there were so many of them, but the survivors aren't alone in their experience. In the years since the Sandy Hook massacre, the U.S. has seen dozens more school shootings, and there are thousands of school shooting survivors dealing with related traumas. Many of those survivors have become outspoken anti-gun-violence advocates, pressuring officials to enact stronger laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

But for now, the Sandy Hook graduates are celebrating a big life milestone, just as they—and their 20 missing classmates—should be.

Watch six of the Sandy Hook survivors share their stories on Good Morning America:


via the_geriatricmillennial/TikTok (used with permission) and Karolina Kaboompics/Pexels

A mother deactivated her daughter's smartphone.

The number of teens and tweens who have smartphones is on the rise and we’re starting to see the effects that “great rewiring” has on them. Recent research shows that smartphones can have a very negative effect on girls’ mental health.

After giving her 11-year-old a smartphone about a year ago, Kailey Wood, known as The_GeriatricMillenial on TikTok, deactivated it because she’s seen “firsthand just how detrimental" they are. "So much so that last night, I finally said, 'I'm done with this,' and I deactivated my 11-year-old's phone," she says in a TikTok video. "And I don't know when I'm gonna give it back."


She initially gave her kids phones to keep track of them around the neighborhood, but now she “regrets” the decision. The 37-year-old mother of two from Buffalo, New York, shared her story in a TikTok video viewed over 1.4 million times.

@the_geriatricmillennial

Taking away my 11 year old daughters phone agter having one for a year because its feeling like more negative than positive lately. No opinions needed, parentinf kids in the digital age is hard enough but would love to hear what other parents are doing to maintain their kids independence while also being safe #momofteens #momoftweensgirls #momofdaughters #parentingadvice #teenswithphones #millennialmom #momsover30

Wood was tired of her daughter being in constant conflict with her friends, so she took the phone out of the equation. “Young girls get jealous and don’t think before they text, so they unintentionally hurt their friends' feelings,” she told Upworthy. “Snapchat and Instagram document their whereabouts and friends feel left out. When that happens, sometimes emotions fuel mean comments and DMs. They’re all totally normal feelings, but if I can prevent drama and conflict longer, then that's what I’m going to do.”

Wood struggled with the decision because smartphones made it easy for her to contact her daughter when she was at her friends’ houses. They also gave her peace of mind because she didn’t have the phone numbers of some of her friends’ parents.

However, she couldn’t take the constant jealousy and bickering between her daughter and her friends. “I just decided it’s gone too far. I’m done with this; we’re going to have to figure out a new solution,” she said in the video. "Phones and social media ... those are a part of the teenage experience now. But at what expense?"

Wood believes that to stop the problem, parents should “band together” to prevent children from getting smartphones until they are at least 14.

Replying to @Eboneytwoees

@the_geriatricmillennial

Replying to @Eboneytwoees

Since the video went viral in April, Wood has had a slight change of heart. She has reintroduced the phone but with a new set of strict rules. “No socials, limited screen time and she’s not allowed to bring it out of the house. So if she goes out, she only has her Apple Watch,” she told Upworthy. “Phones this age at sleepovers or hangouts just take away from the time together.”

The good news is that she has also recruited the parents of her daughter’s friends and they have implemented the same rules.

Wood believes that her strategy is all about making a difficult time in life a bit easier. "My goal is to avoid any social conflicts that social media or group chats unintentionally cause,” she told People. “Being a tween/teen already comes with enough pressure and drama, which leads to more depression/anxiety,"