Student organizers spread message of non-violence following Parkland shooting


Senior Allison McCoin, holding her sign at the walkout. (photo by Belle Maucieri)

Lauren Girgris, Co-Editor-in-Chief

    A walkout to protest gun violence was organized by juniors Payton Sliepka and Megha Manne and held on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine Shooting, drawing about 100 students out to the memorial garden.

    “I took it upon myself to help organize the walkout because gun reform is something I truly believe in,” Manne said. “Kids and teachers should never be afraid at school. After so many deaths, this epidemic is no longer acceptable.”

    After 17 students were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, outrage sparked across the nation and was felt at home.

    “The official planning started a week after the Parkland school shooting in Florida,” Sliepka said. “We met with administration countless times, spent hours on phone calls with walkout leaders from other schools, spread the word with social media, informed teachers and wrote speeches.”

    Principal Sarah Watkins said that administrators initially had no idea about the walkout, but met with Sliepka and Manne to agree upon the time, place and location of the walkout. While not expressing support or participating in the walkout, administrators were on hand during the walkout to ensure it was orderly and non-violent.

   “We don’t have a position on it, but students have a right to express their first amendment rights and we are not going to prevent them from doing that,” Watkins said.

    Overall, the demonstration was brief and orderly. A one minute moment of silence was held- 47 seconds for each person under the age of 20 shot everyday in America, and 13 seconds for each person shot in the Columbine massacre.

    Students were encouraged to wear orange, which protesting students nationwide were wearing. The color has become a national symbol for the movement to stop gun violence. Speeches were also delivered by Sliepka and Manne, and students joined in chants, shouting “gun control” at the end of the walkout.

    “I walked out because I was disgusted by all of the violence going on within schools and that no one was taking control, not adults or administration,” junior Opal McElroy said. “We are the people who are affected by gun violence, and if we don’t take a stand for our own lives, no one else is going to do it.”

    While some of the students were there in support of the walkout, some were in opposition.

    “I am not going to march against the rights and liberties that all Americans are granted in the constitution,” senior Sean Krause said. “A crime committed by one person shouldn’t spur an entire movement targeting law-abiding Americans who own and carry firearms.”

    Krause said he is in support of stronger police presence in schools as a possible solution, but he does not favor arming teachers. Regardless, the subject of what to do is heavily debated among students, including those who are not sure of a solution.

    “Personally I don’t think the walkout really had an effect,” senior Vincent Galicha said. “To be honest, it kind of just leaves you out there like a sitting duck asking to get shot. Instead, go out and try to make a difference by using your vote to support those who share your opinion.”

    The walkout lasted from 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m., and the 17 minutes were meant to commemorate each of the lives lost in Parkland. With an open campus, safety concerns have increased since Parkland, and ID badges and a PA system are being implemented for the 2018-2019 school year.

    “I felt it was necessary to make a change because I was personally feeling scared to go to school,” Sliepka said. “Especially on an open campus, I don’t know if I’m closer to getting shot or to a diploma.”

    During their speeches, Sliepka and Manne said the walkout was intended to present a united front in the community protesting gun violence.

    “When I was speaking, I truly felt like I was able to reach out to students and send them a message that they are not alone in their resistance,” Manne said. “I felt that I was encouraging students to take a stand and make the changes to better our own future.”

    Sliepka and Manne encouraged students to register to vote for the midterm elections. Students have to be 17 and 10 months in order to register in time for them to vote in November.

    “We may just be students, but we are powerful and we are bold, and our voices deserve to be heard,” Manne said. “Protect children, not guns.”