For 17 minutes last week, faculty and administration joined us in solidarity. For 17 minutes, we honored the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. For 17 minutes, we imagined the change that our generation has the potential to enact.
Since the shooting in Florida last month, high schoolers have stepped up to challenge legislators and the status quo. It’s empowering to watch activists our own age make a tangible difference in an issue that’s long been stymied by polarization and a lack of accountability for legislators’ impotence.
In fact, two weeks ago, the Florida legislature raised the purchasing age for a firearm from 18 to 21; the law also bans the sale of bump stocks, an accessory used in the Las Vegas shooting that allows a gun to fire more quickly. The fact that Florida, a state with historically loose gun laws, passed these reforms so rapidly is indicative of the power that student activists have. If the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas hadn’t so bravely spoken out, none of this would be a reality.
We’re proud that our school took part in the national walkout. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but placed in the context of a broader movement, we took an important stand. When taking the history of high school protest into account, the significance is magnified further: there have been few times when high school students were able to make an impact in a way that led to meaningful action.
At Harvard-Westlake itself, our way to participate in the national movement was to memorialize the lives lost in Florida with short speeches, a moment of silence and profiles of those killed. There wasn’t a protest, and we didn’t walk off-campus with posters in our hands. While those poignant displays of activism took place on campuses across the country, our own gathering was no less powerful. Regardless of the way in which we participated in the movement, we should recognize that our end-goal is the same. We took part in something bigger than our school and ourselves.
We also focused on what we could do to see real results: encouraging teens to vote. There’s strength in numbers, and the national walkout proved that young people have the ability to sway a vote if they take action.
We are grateful that our school administration supported us in the walkout. We know that some high school administrators around the country were unsure of how to respond, and we appreciate that ours believed in the power that we hold as students and were willing to support our efforts. While the focus of the movement has been on the safety of students, it’s important to remember that teachers and faculty are also deeply affected by the debate on gun regulation. We are glad that teachers, administrators and students were able to come together and direct our message toward the lawmakers who have the power to change legislation.
Seeing the impact of a movement we were a part of in the news was heartwarming and empowering. We are proud to have followed the lead of the brave activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and take the issue into our own hands. And we can use the events of last week as a stepping stone to taking further action. As young people, we might feel discouraged or that we don’t have the same voice as adults, but the past month has proved the opposite to be true. The next steps are to register (or preregister) to vote, to contact our representatives and participate in future demonstrations. Last week’s walkout was only the beginning.