“At the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them,” East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School senior Colin Barnes read. “As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us as we remember them.”
Barnes was reciting the poem “We Remember Them,” by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer, in honor of the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.
On Wednesday, every student in the school filed into the gymnasium along with teachers and administrators during third period for a special assembly in remembrance of the victims. The event was organized by Interim Principal Neil Lederer in the wake of National School Walkout Day, where students across the country walked out of their schools for 17 minutes to remember the victims of the mass shooting, and to call for stricter gun controls.
“I wanted to have something, and I wanted the students to feel that they had an alternative [to walking out],” Lederer said. “Overall, I think it was a dignified recognition of an unfortunate event.”
In his opening remarks, Lederer spoke about the dangers of gun violence and urged those in power to protect students and their educators by addressing the excesses of weaponry. He also told the students they had the power to create change by writing, calling or emailing President Trump, U.S. senators, congressman and other representatives.
“This country will listen to its young people,” Lederer said. “You have a voice that resonates and can influence those in power.”
Lederer then read the names of the 17 victims of the shooting while their photos were projected onto screens, and organized a 17-second moment of silence. After that, Barnes read the poem and the ensemble choir performed. Assistant Principal James DeTommaso also spoke, and urged students to speak up if they are ever in any danger.
After the assembly, Lederer invited students who wanted to participate in National Walkout Day to go outside the gym to the rear parking lot, where faculty members were waiting to keep an eye on them. About 75 to 100 students went outside, many wielding signs.
Lederer said after the 17 minutes were over, students went back to their classes without incident and there were not any other walkout demonstrations that day. “I’m very proud of our students,” he said. “They acted very responsibly and in a very dignified way.”
Seventh and eighth grade students also made cards that will be distributed to students and staff members in Florida.
Lederer said he hoped that the efforts would influence lawmakers to make changes that would keep schools and communities safe. “Our schools will truly be towers of learning,” he said, “and not scenes of tragedy.”