“I feel safe because our community isn’t a place where this could happen. Then again, many communities feel that way. And then it happens.”
— Taylor Slonaker, MMRHS junior
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It started with an announcement over the school speakers. One moment the Monument gymnasium was nearly empty, hardly a minute later, following the announcement, it was filled with hundreds of students. All there to honor their fallen peers murdered in the Parkland, Florida school-shooting massacre.
Shortly after the students arrived, they observed a moment of silence of 1 minute and 17 seconds in remembrance. (To watch a video of the students conducting the ceremony, click HERE.)
Despite the number of students in attendance, the gymnasium was truly silent as fitting for the gravity of the situation. Not even an unintentional squeak of a sneaker against the floor. Just silence.
A handful of students, all upperclassmen and female who helped organized the walkout with the full support of the school’s administration, then addressed their classmates. “Gun violence is a bigger problem than ever before, and it can feel like for every step forward, we take two or three steps back,” student organizer Claudia Maurino, a junior, said. “…In 2018, there have already been 14 school shootings; 27 people have died, and another 18 have been injured. This is too much.”
At the same time – 10 a.m., in concert with young mourners across the country – students at Mt. Everett also observed a moment of silence, then played a mournful rendition of taps and read the names of the 17 murdered in Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas school one month ago. They noted each victim’s age and spoke a few words about each young life taken. The programs at both schools, and across the county, state and nation, were student-created and student led.
The Mt. Everett students handed out postcards for everyone to write something about how to be kind to others, and to take hold of loners or students who seem sad or depressed, or to change one’s own behavior to help others feel included and supported. There is now a wall of these postcards inside the school. In addition to the walkout, there is now also a ‘walk up’ movement at Mt. Everett, encouraging peers to walk up to new or solo classmates.
Back at MMRHS, Claudia Maurino continued her grim accounting of shocking national statistics. “There have been 301 school shootings since 2013,” she said to a hushed audience of classmates. “This averages to one per week. One school shooting approximately every seven days…. We deserve to go to school, confident in our ability to make it home. We deserve to make it through the day alive.”
Fellow activist, Lucy Doren, also a junior, urged her classmates to join Rise, the student-led activist club. “We will not only create the change,” she said. “We will be the change.” Alessandra Chiavacci, echoed that sentiment. “If you make enough sound, someone has to listen to you,” she said.
The students goal, to memorialize the fallen, as well as help their fellow students feel empowered to make change, was keenly felt among those who attended. “I thought it was really productive for all of us to come together and show our support, to stand with students in Parkland to let them know that we’re here,” said Zoe Becker, a junior.
The student walkout ended with the singing of John Lennon’s Imagine, a paean to peace that continues to give goosebumps. (To watch students performing ‘Imagine,’ click HERE.)
And yet, while it was possible to imagine these young adults making great change in the world, it was sadly also possible to imagine the degree of violence an assault rifle could wreak if it were unleashed at that same moment in the gymnasium. It’s a fear, a grim one, that in today’s world, is rarely far from one’s mind.
“Personally, I feel safe because our community isn’t a place where this could happen,” said Monument junior Taylor Slonaker, one of the walkout organizers. After a short pause, she reconsidered her opinion. “Then again, many communities feel that way. And then it happens. And then it’s about ‘how can I get out of here if there’s a shooter in the building.’”
Slonaker said that a friend’s mother makes her wear sneakers to school every day. “That way her mother knows that she can run to safety if she needs to. It’s shocking, and not okay that we feel we have to take these precautions because of what’s going on in the country. This has to stop. The violence has to stop.”
Taylor’s mother, Renee Slonaker, said she tries to put such morbid thoughts out of her mind, but that they persist nonetheless. “When I hike up then sit atop Monument Mountain and look down at the schools, I find myself hoping that all’s well down there. These fears are on parents’ minds. They’re on students’ minds. It scares us just like it scares them. As a parent, you can’t help it. They are little worries, they come and go, and one tries not to dwell on them. But they’re there. The fear is real.”
Elise Richman contributed to this story, reporting from Mt. Everett.