June 2, 2006

Blogging and Social Networking during difficult times

This post was last updated on June 4th, 2006 at 10:06 am

For most of us blogging about education is certainly an area of passion but it rarely requires us to consider issues of life and death.

Many of you may be aware of the tragic case of misidentification of the Taylor University students. In case you missed it:

The casket was closed for Whitney Cerak’s funeral more than a month ago. Her mother, Colleen, declined to look at the body, battered as it was in a collision between a van and a tractor-trailer.

“They wanted to remember her the way she was,” said Cerak’s grandfather, Emil Frank.

Meanwhile, the family of Laura VanRyn, another victim of the crash, kept vigil by a hospital bed.

The severely injured young woman was in a coma for a time, but the family’s blog detailed the many small stps she made toward recovery: feeding herself applesauce, playing Connect Four with a therapist.

But as her condition improved, Laura VanRyn’s family realized they had the wrong woman, and Colleen Cerak realized she had not buried her daughter.

The family of VanRyn, 22, disclosed the mix-up Wednesday on their blog. “Our hearts are aching as we have learned that the young woman we have been taking care of over the past five weeks has not been our dear Laura,” but instead a fellow university student of hers, Whitney Cerak, they wrote.

The shock was equal but joyous for the family of Cerak, whose funeral drew 1,400 in her hometown of Gaylord, Mich. “I still can’t get over it. It’s like a fairy tale,” Frank said.

The VanRyn’s began a blog to keep interested parties up to date with Laura’s progress. When the realization of mistaken identity was evident, they continued to blog and invited Whitney’s family to join them. This obviously speaks to their faith but also proves that the power of social networking to provide insight and understanding cannot be underestimated. In trying times, many often retreat and seek to remove themselves from the public. The Ceraks and VanRyns have chose to allow us to peak inside their pain and open themselves to the world. This reminds me of Dwayne Harms who last year while dying of cancer chronicled his journey and offered hope and understanding of his horrible disease.

While we may take our blogs seriously and benefit from social networking, these stories illustrate that our need and ability to share with the world can be more powerful than most of us can imagine. In a day when the media and fearful educators work to dismiss social networking as nothing more than a predator’s playground or teenage hangouts, let’s be sure to illustrate it has the potential to bring people together in meaningful, life changing ways.