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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Don’t betray the future of this brave generation

The day was a dark one for Cumbria. Though Monday’s May sunshine blazed with an August heat, shivers of shock and loss were chilling.

Two bright, energetic, happy young people lost their lives that day. Returning home from Keswick School, Kieran Goulding, 15, and Chloe Walker – celebrating her 16th birthday – died when their school bus crashed and overturned on the A66.

That much is well known by now – though not remotely understood. The myth that time heals has always been a fallacy.

It has been no time at all, of course – not yet. But none is banking on healing in the longer time either. That much we all accept.

Yet in the dreadful, woefully grievous tragedy of that sunny Monday afternoon there was a magnificence.

It emerged with breathtaking spontaneity, in defiance of the darkness of the day. It continued, like a torch bearer, to carry light into bleak Tuesday and remarkably, it still shines.

First rescuers at the crash scene were children. Young teens with the maturity of hardened professionals, suspended fear, rose above squeamishness and their own traumas to help their classmates with stellar efficiency.

Girls from the upper sixth form were among those who ran from a minibus behind the coach to drag fellow pupils out of the stricken bus and give first aid at the roadside.

Even experienced, senior police officers were taken aback. Chief Supt Steve Johnson praised their actions.

He said: “These were children, remember. They went straight to the aid of their friends and colleagues. They did an absolutely incredible job.”

Incredible indeed. Magnificence so often is. They ministered to their friends. The walking wounded fretted for their driver, worried for the seriously injured – and for themselves last and least of all.

But strength in immediate crisis was not all these remarkable schoolchildren would show.

Only a day later they arrived, as scheduled, at school to sit GCSE exams. Putting their own grief and troubles on hold, they instinctively offered the finest tribute they could to the fellow students they would miss.

They continued, through the most testing time of their lives, their inspirational journey of youthful determination – a journey cruelly snatched from their friends Chloe and Kieran.

Special kids. Special to Keswick, special to Cumbria. Special young people capable of making the whole of the country gasp at their extraordinary fortitude.

These are teenagers able to make grown men and women – dwarfed by the courage of children – weep in stunned admiration of driven common purpose; wonder at the power of hope in unimaginable adversity. Marvel at magnificence.

Few can begin to comprehend the pain in families now facing a future without their beloved children.

Only those directly involved in Monday’s terrible events will fully know the emotional turmoil of vivid, nightmarish recall. But these Keswick School pupils asked, in their bravery, not for pity or concession. Instead they demonstrated inarguable need of our commitment to their promise.

This county has suffered more than its share of troubles over recent months – though none so tragic as this week’s distressing events.

Much has been made of Cumbria’s powers of recovery. But never has it been shown so clearly from where that recovery will come.

While the county struggles and grapples, entangles itself in ever more knotty political webs of uncertainty over provision of higher and further education, our young people stride on purposefully towards their goal of being Cumbria’s saviours.

They rely on lesser men and women they dwarf and demean by their maturity to offer the life chances they need and deserve. Life chances two bright young teenagers had hoped for as they made that fateful journey home from school.

How can we deny them? How can we allow political in-fighting and financial manoeuvring to take priority over the hopes and dreams of youngsters?

The truth is, we can’t. We mustn’t. Our future lies in the strong, able hands of remarkable young people who have proved themselves more than equal to any task, any difficulty, any challenge.

Those bright and hopeful teens ask only that we open the doors to their future success – on which Cumbria’s future success will depend.

They ask only that we commit to their promise, invest our faith in their potential.

In memory of the friends they loved and lost. In appreciative honour of their magnificence.

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