For 17 solemn minutes of silence, hundreds of Oceanside High School students left their classrooms on Wednesday morning and flocked to the football field for a walkout in remembrance of the 17 student and teachers killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Fla. on Feb. 14.
The observance was part of a national movement organized in response to the school shootings that since 1999 — with the Columbine High School massacre in Jefferson County Colo. — have become the new norm in America.
The teenagers stood with eyes downcast as Student Council President Julianna Risi and Senior President Martina D’Angelo, both 17, recited over the field loudspeaker the names of those killed during the Florida massacre, combined with a call to action to reach out to 17 of their peers that they may not normally interact with.
The hope, according to the two student government leaders, was that kids would make new friends, and reduce the alienation so often cited as a motivator among the perpetrators of the mass killings.
“The main idea for this was remembrance out of respect for people that were lost,” Risi said shortly after the walkout. “We think we can help, not prevent, but help make these situations less common by reaching out to others, reaching out to the kid that sits alone at lunch, or working with a new group of people and improving your relationships with others.”
“I think it’s also about awareness,” D’Angelo added. “ … The big thing today was to remember those kids, and honor those kids because they were so similar in age to us, and we relate to them.”
While there were signs that some involved in the walkout were protesting gun violence and congressional inaction on firearm regulation, Risi and D’Angelo said they intentionally framed Oceanside’s walkout as a commemoration in order to encourage more participation among the student body, many of which are passionate about gun ownership.
“For our school specifically, we know we have a diverse student body regarding their views,” Risi explained. “We know there are people who support gun control and people who don’t, and people that are pro Second Amendment and will literally fight for it until they die. But we wanted to make sure that this walkout could be available to everybody.”
“I think that for our school in particular, to take this walkout and really stress the fact that it was solely about remembrance,” D’Angelo echoed. “ … It says something to all the other schools that are walking out or are protesting … that this was more for us, and those students.”
The walkout was entirely student organized, as state law prohibits school districts from advocating for political positions. But despite being barred from officially condoning the event, Schools Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington expressed pride at the student activism on display.
“We turned it over to the students, and together the plan was developed,” she said of maintaining a secure environment for the walkout. Security was tight, and there was a police presence just outside school grounds.
“When we empower the students to work with us, this is what came as a result of that,” Harrington explained, gesturing to the field where just moments before hundreds of the high schoolers had silently gathered.
But regardless of the views of those taking part, there was little doubt, as Risi said of the latest shooting, “Everyone can agree that it should never have happened, and it should never happen again.”