In praise of the awe-inspiring students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

A Florida student recounts the shooting on Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. (Photo: Getty Images)
A Florida student recounts the shooting on Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. (Photo: Getty Images)

In the wake of a gruesome shooting spree that left 17 dead at a Florida high school, the student body of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been nothing short of awe inspiring.

Just hours after the attack, in which a former student allegedly gunned down students and teachers with an AR-15, survivors took to social media to express outrage at their country, speak out about those who saved them, and call on adults to stop the violence. It’s a fitting response from a school that’s named after a feminist icon, and an undeserved dose of inspiration for a nation reeling over the tragedy. 

We need to do something. We need to get out there and be politically active,” David Hogg, a senior who was present at Marjory Stoneman Douglas as the shooting broke out, told The New York Times. in the aftermath. “Congress needs to get over their political bias with each other and work toward saving children’s lives.”

Hogg was in science class when he heard gunshots, a sound — owing to his father’s former role in the FBI — he recognized instantly. After a janitor ushered him away from a direct run-in with the shooter, he took shelter in a side room, with more than two dozen others. While hiding, Hogg courageously recorded interviews with his classmates.

“What’s your message,” Hogg whispers to a female classmate, who is visibly shaken.  “If you looked around this closet and saw us all hiding together you [would] know that this shouldn’t be happening anymore,” the student, nearing tears, says. “It doesn’t deserve to happen to anyone. No amount of money should make it more easily accessible to get guns.”

As the image goes black, Hogg continues interviewing, this time speaking with a classmate who identifies as a gun supporter. “I had wanted to be a junior NRA [National Rifle Association] member,” the student says. “But this experience was so traumatizing to the point that now I can’t even fathom the thought of a gun in my house. … It’s eye opening.”

Even after the incident, Hogg continued reporting, appearing on CNN with Kelsey Friend, a classmate who was near the shooter. Fighting back tears, Friend takes the opportunity to spread gratitude to the family of Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who died while ushering kids to safety in his classroom. Friend was one of them. “I will never forget the actions that he took,” Friend says. “If his family is watching this, please know that your son or your brother was an amazing person and I am alive today because of him … his name in me will live on. I’ll make sure of it.”

Students on Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. (Photo: Getty Images)
Students on Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hogg and Friend are far from the only ones speaking out.

After President Donald Trump tweeted offering his “prayers and condolences,” a junior named Sarah Chadwick expressed her outrage at the move. In a since-deleted tweet (which began by referring to him as “piece of s**t”), Chadwick offered a searing call to action: “My friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.”

At Stoneman Douglas, it seems socially conscious students are not the exception, they’re the rule. More can be found in the pages of the most recent issue of the school’s magazine The Eagle Eye, published this January, where students cover everything from the dangers of vaping to the conflicting arguments that make up the “kneeling ordeal” in the NFL.

In a letter to the editor titled “Not Cool Enough for School,” one student named Thais Guerra discusses bullying and the problem with ideals of perfection that society perpetuates. “I don’t know if it’s a problem that’ll ever be fixed, but hopefully one day it will be,” Guerra writes. “And I think it can start with us.”

On a two-page spread that follows,  students are shown embracing during a day in November when the student body watched a screening of a film about mental health awareness. Chadwick (the junior who tweeted at Trump) is quoted in a nearby article that outlines the merits of #MeToo.   “People just don’t really believe women in the same way they believe men I think,” Chadwick says. “And that kind of sexism [is] just so deeply rooted in our society, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.”

In the days after the shooting, thoughtful, well-articulated points of view and plans of action have continued to surface from the student body. On Friday afternoon, a 17-year-old named Cameron Kasky published an op-ed on CNN titled “My Generation Won’t Stand for This.” In it, he details the chilling moment when, upon picking up his special-needs brother, he realized his school was under attack.

“I thought it was going to be a wonderful day. My high school was full of cheerful students,” Kasky writes. “But then, of course, everything changed.”

After hours of “confusion and terror,” Kasky and his brother made it home safely. But for the 17 who didn’t, he’s not giving up. “I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now,” Kasky writes. “Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience — our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.”

Kasky calls out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for failing to “take responsibility” for the gun culture that may have fueled the shooting — and faults both the left and right for failing to enact change. It’s a strikingly smart and articulate piece on gun control, one written by a student still too young to vote.

And if all of that wasn’t already enough, some students have even created an online community on Facebook dedicated to taking on the issue of gun control. Named #NeverAgainMSG, the organization’s bio is simple yet chilling, a perfect encapsulation of a study body determined not to let their classmates die in vain. “Seventeen lives taken yesterday by a gunman wielding an AR-15,” it reads. “The survivors are here to speak up.”

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