One month after Nikolas Cruz shot 17 people dead — students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., — thousands of high school students across the nation, guided by teachers and administrators, either walked out of their buildings or took part in other activities at around 10 a.m. today in an effort to remember the victims and call attention to needed change concerning gun laws, mental health and violence.
"We believe, that there are moments like these that we are called upon to react," Shulamith High School for Girls Principal Rina Zerykier wrote in a letter to her school community about the school's remembrance. "The students of Parkland, Florida were high school teens. Yet, they will not have the opportunity to sign their HS yearbooks, laugh in their student lounge or attend their HS graduation. While so much may divide us, it is important for us to find the common thread of humanity that connects us. The survivors ... asked teenagers around the world to care. And so, we did.
Hewlett High School students walked to the football field, observed six minutes of silence, released balloons and some statements were. The event lasted 17 minutes in memory of the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 mass shooting. School officials said that participation was optional, it was supervised and media were not permitted on school grounds.
“Senior Justin Fliegel read the names of six victims from a half dozen shootings — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Pulse nightclub and Parkland — noting the total of 195 deaths at those places. "These innocent people should not have died for nothing,” he said. “We need to be safe in our own country and our own school. This is about encouraging all our fellow students to work together to make positive changes.”
In the Lawrence High School gymnasium, students also gathered voluntarily for 17 minutes and were given stickers with the No. 17 on them and are being asked to perform 17 acts of kindness. There was also a moment of silence and participants wore the burgundy and silver school colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Students who didn’t take part were allowed to go to the school library.
“This is a big issue, the kids who were killed were our age, and a few students know people there,” said senior Dayris Beltran. “This is something we easily can be a part of. We want to use this to make a difference."
“We were all affected by this and by doing this it we’ll make me feel better,” said junior Jacqueline Blyudoy, who’s best friend from middle school, Noa Burle, knew Alex Schachter, 14, one of the victims. Other Lawrence students know Hector Navarro, a Stoneman Douglas student, who was not a victim.
Students at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High School were going to walkout for 17 minutes, but Principal Naomi Lippman said for security and logistical issues and parent concerns the event took place inside the Cedarhurst school building.
“We have reformulated the way in which we are commemorating the lives of the seventeen victims,” Lippman said. “We will recite the Tehillim (psalms), read aloud the names of the victims and observe a moment of silence in their memory. We are educators, and our classes are looking at guns laws in New York state and the recent gun legislation singed into law in Florida.”
David Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere sent out a letter to the parents of their students. Staff and students headed outside for a 17-minute program.
Student leaders spoke about what their peers can do to help avert school violence, show sensitivity to all students and remember the victims. A prayer was recited for the victims and their families. Participation was voluntary and the students who did not go outside went to school’s prayer room and said a psalm also for the victims and their families.
Lawrence Woodmere Academy upper and lower school students gathered on the front lawn for 17 minutes. "Any participation for today's walkout was student drive, and our students took the lead and followed their own convictions," LWA Headmaster Alan Bernstein, wrote in a letter to alumni. "The Academy community was impressed that many of our students wanted to call attention to this through their actions."
On the Far Rockaway High School campus, students walked out of the building at 9:52 a.m., knelt on the field football in remembrance of “those who have not survived in the shooting of Florida and those lost in our community due to gun violence,” as was posted on the Friends of Rockaway Beach Facebook page. They remained outside for 17 minutes. “Each minute for every life lost,” the post read. “We CAN and we WILL stand up for OUR right to be safe!”
“As young people we have the power to use our platform to make change,” said Hayden Gise, a Hewlett High School senior.