At 10 am on March 14, 2018, over 100 GS students left their classes, joining the ranks of hundreds of thousands of other students across the country in honor of the 17 students who died in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL.
“We wanted to get everyone to stand together to try and change things,” senior student organizer Jordan Mitchell said.
Major media companies have made it clear that student, school and activist groups around the nation were protesting the current gun possession laws. However, Mitchell and her partner, senior Dante Howard, did not advertise GS’ walkout this way, abstaining from any mention of guns or gun laws. They instead focused on uniting the student body to rally for school safety and honoring the lives lost in Parkland.
The core idea was present in the students who showed up on the 14th, but many had different takes on the assembly.
“I just feel bad for the parents of the kids who passed away from this,” freshman Aiyana Morris said.
Some students, like Morris, openly said their purpose dealt with guns. Morris did not specify that she wanted guns restricted or not, but did make clear that she cared about weapon safety.
“Gun safety is something that should be expressed more often,” she said.
Other students, such as senior Hannah Douglas, said that the assembly was not a protest against gun laws.
“Maybe [students] are thinking that this is a protest against gun rights,” Douglas said. “Which is why a lot of people would not want to be here. A lot of people in Pennsylvania support having guns in their possession.”
Douglas is correct with that statement. The statewide laws in PA are non-licensed open-carry, except in Philadelphia.
“We’re not here to say no one can have guns,” she said. “We’re here to honor the lives of those who were lost.”
Guns didn’t seem to be on the mind of many of the participants. Most, like Douglas, seemed focused on their student body.
“I’m here to say that this isn’t okay,” junior Cole Turnbull said, referring to the bomb and shooting threats that have happened infrequently at GS in recent years. “It’s nothing to joke around about.”
Turnbull’s classmate, junior Sean McFeeley, who stood on the opposite side of the gym, had a stance focused on the suffering of those in Parkland.
”I’m here to honor the families for what happened down in Florida,” McFeeley said.
When asked why some students might not have come to the event, McFeeley was quick to point out what he thought they may suspect.
“Well, they might think this is about gun control,” he said. “If it is or isn’t, I’m just here for the families.”
Several other students felt similar to McFeeley in the sense that they simply wanted to honor the families of those who died, and didn’t pay mind to why others might have been there.
“I want people who come to this protest to have a voice,” junior Adam Goldstein said. “I want people to be able to say: ‘Hey, it shouldn’t be like this. Kids shouldn’t have to come to school in fear of dying.’”
Goldstein, like McFeeley, was asked why he thought some students didn’t attend.
“Some people may not have come out today simply because they want to stay in class,” he said. “Or, it’s possible they disagree with the idea of leaving class for a protest. Others might not come out because they disagree with the idea of a protest itself.”
Neither Goldstein, McFeeley nor Turnbull condemned those who didn’t participate.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” Turnbull said. “Some people are with it, some people aren’t.”
What students said at the event matters less than what they did there. A large number attended and many attendees actively participated. Students had the option to write postcards or letters to the families that lost members in the Parkland shooting and sign a poster [featured image] that now hangs in the lobby. All the while, Mitchell gave a short speech and read the names of the victims aloud.
“We wanted to make people aware that this can happen anywhere, and we wanted people to take that more seriously,” she said.
Signatures accrued on several petitions set out on a table in the middle of the gym. According to Mitchell, those petitions will be sent to state officials as well as Senator Conor Lamb and district representative Eric Nelson and state senator Kim Ward. The organizers hoped that the petitions would get legislation talking about improving schools “security-wise.”
“We read all the names of the people who passed in Florida,” she said. “We had a moment of silence too.”
During those 15 seconds, the familiar kind of chatter usually heard in every corner of the school stopped, giving way to the airflow in the gym and the silent reflection of hundreds of students.
“This made people aware that they actually died,” Mitchell said. “We honored them that way.”
Most would say that 17 minutes is not a long event, but more than enough to make a statement. At the end of the 17 minutes, principal Mr. David Zilli concluded with a short speech, sending the students back to their usual schedules. For the sake of all of GS, he hoped this would not be a “one-and-done.”
“You think about this moment and how you can take the next step and make this something that lives forever,” Mr. Zilli said. “This is the first step in making real change for all of us. For you and for me, for your kids and for your kids’ kids. This is our chance to keep this something that’s important to us, that’s near and dear to us because we respect and love each other.”
At this, Zilli announced that Mitchell and Howard were going to release balloons outside to conclude the assembly. As students returned to class, their appearance out the window reminded them of the reasons they came.
“I appreciate your respect and your willingness to be a part of this,” Zilli concluded. “Have a wonderful day as a Golden Lion.”