March 14, 2018
Today, my school participated in a school-sanctioned remembrance event honoring the victims and the community in Parkland, FL, on the one-month anniversary of the school shooting. Several weeks ago, students approached our administration with the idea, and students planned and lead the event. I am so incredibly proud of my students, and I have a wealth of hope for the upcoming generation.
We started with an assembly, led by a local police officer who was also a school parent. He shared with us the need for situational awareness as well as compassion and community. In one quote, he told us to treat each other like it was our last day – or like it was theirs. To love, to listen, to pray, and to reach out to those with bad days or those who sit alone. Then, students could choose to go outside (it was about 22 degrees) for a 17-minute memorial to remember the 17 students and teachers who were murdered by a school shooter. About 500 did, with many teachers and staff and several parents accompanying.
We didn’t protest for gun legislation. This wasn’t a political event. Students didn’t walk out of class, and they didn’t participate just to skip class – and yet, the hundreds of comments on the local news’ Facebook post suggested we did all those things. Adults who don’t fact check accuse my students of skipping class and wasting time instead of stopping bullying. They say we should protest on Saturdays, and that my students are too uneducated to have an opinion about, well, anything. They say students should be docked a letter grade or suspended for participating, and teachers who participated should be fired. Some applaud my students for exercises their right to protest, but they were wrong too.
To them, and to you, I say – read the words of the three student speakers who helped lead this event. I got their permission to recopy this. These words are heartfelt and beautiful, and they were followed by a prayer.
Before I begin, I want to applaud each of you for using your voice to support Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Some people say that our generation is distracted and disconnected, but I believe solemn days like these bring each of us together in ways never seen before.
When I first heard the news of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, I cried. I remember on that day, Valentine’s Day of all days, walking into the living room and seeing the all-too-familiar helicopter view of a high school in chaos on TV. As the camera zoomed in, I remember seeing parents sob behind barricades as students ran out of the school building with their hands in the air and police rifles pointed at their chests. I felt so deeply connected to the victims and survivors of this tragedy, without personally knowing a single one.
Later that night, I learned that I did in fact know someone on the inside. It turns out that a future GW [The George Washington University] classmate of mine, Carly Novell, had survived the attack by barricading herself in a supply closet as the sound of bullets echoed in the hallway. Carly’s story took my perspective of the shooting to a whole new level. Her story could have been mine. It could have been yours.
By the time the dust had settled in Parkland, we learned that 17 students and teachers had lost their lives. Their names were: Alyssa… Scott… Martin… Nicholas… Aaron… Jamie… Chris… Luke… Cara… Gina… Joaquin… Alaina… Meadow… Helena… Alex… Carmen… and Peter… We too have students named Alyssa, Luke, Alex, and Carmen. I could go on. We too have teachers who would sacrifice their life in a heart beat for the protection of just one of their students. It’s easy to think that school violence is only an issue in other communities, but in reality, it is an issue that haunts schools across the country, including our own.
Because of this, we as students have a responsibility. Just as we use our voices this morning to mourn the fallen in Parkland, we must also use them to prevent a catastrophe like this from ever occurring again. I plead to each of you: be there for your neighbor. Love them, encourage them, let them know you’re there for them. In the words of Captain McKinney, “Treat everyone like you would if it were your last day, or better yet, theirs.” If you have concerns for someone, don’t internalize them—tell an administrator or law enforcement officer. Only we can prevent these.
Finally, I ask each of you to not be afraid. Don’t jump at every loud noise or lose hope in our outstanding student body. Instead of being overcome by fear, we must take this opportunity to unite as a school, community, and country. We must make it known that school violence has no place in our education system, and that together we will see a day where memorials like these will be no more.
As I stand here and speak on our community being great I also understand that every community is not. Parkland’s community has been flipped by a national tragedy, a tragedy we still mourn to this day. Brothers, sisters and friends never able to reach their full potential, never fully able to realize all that life has to offer. But Parkland has showed us something great in darkness. They’ve found light. The students there have pulled themselves up and found a new sense of community one better than before and one full of passion. Community is undeniable. I leave you with these words from 1 Peter 3:8:
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.1 Peter 3:8
See Something, Say Something is a popular quote that has been making the rounds lately. If you see someone being bullied, having a bad day, or just anyone you just do not know, say something. This could be as simple as saying hello. Say something to those people who put others down for being themselves. Say something when that girl you don’t know looks like she’s having a tough day. Say something to that person who may not be the most popular or may be a little socially awkward. Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything, smile at someone in the hallway today and everyday. I don’t think people understand how much that changes a person’s day. Why say something? Our theme for this school year is “United in service, with Christ at the center.” and the verse for the year is from Colossians 1:9-10, where Paul writes,
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.Colossians 1:9-10
We are called to serve. Serve others and serve Christ. This can be achieved by simply saying something to someone. Now I, in no way, say that we should start telling people hello and being nice all because you live in fear that that person might go to an extreme level of harming you. Do it because you genuinely want to be a servant of Christ. If you are the person on the other side of the equation say something as well. I personally know what it is like to feel alone and like your world is crashing down. If you need anyone to talk to — freshman to senior — I am here if anyone wants to talk to me. I am here to listen, talk to you, and just be there! Drew has offered a listening ear as well. Please do not be afraid to speak to someone.
Together, we can be the ones to change the world one community at a time!
Read more about how wonderful the iGen is at In Defense of Teenagers: Part 2