Walkout: South students participate in vigil honoring victims of Parkland shooting

Alyssa Czech '19, Claire Koeppen '19

Students and teachers marched to the South football field and huddled on the track, holding their coats close to make themselves warmer against the wind. Some students raised neon pink signs while listening to the choir sing the National Anthem and the four speakers discuss school gun violence and the victims of school shooting on Wednesday, March 14.

Principal Moussa Hamka said he has been working with students at South and across the district, and decided to let students and staff go outside to have their voices heard.

The South student walkout happened on March 22, 2018. All photos courtesy of Griffin Jones ’18.

“Talking to the students who came to me, I was really encouraged by their mindset. They didn’t want this to be a divisive issue,” Hamka said. “They said they wanted to come together to honor the victims.”

The students who came to Hamka talked to him about opposing school violence and fear about coming to school, along with how they wanted voices should be heard and resources to keep the school safe, according to Hamka. He supported them because of their nonpartisan ideas.

Trinity Diehlee ’19 said there was a group chat of about five or six people who organized the event, including Diehlee, Alice Scott ’21 and Riley Lynch ’18.

“I was handed the Instagram account (for the walkout) by a friend and I heard that Hamka wanted to talk to the runner of the account, so I went to talk to him,” Diehlee said.

There were several people interested in having a walkout at South, so they came up with a plan within the administration’s guidelines, Diehlee said.

Diehlee said the administration wanted the event to be on the football field with security for safety reasons, and wanted it to be non-partisan, which she agreed with. Though the event isn’t political, Diehlee hopes that the event will create some change and create a sense of student empowerment.

“I’m hoping this will get a conversation started in the community,” Diehlee said. “I hope it can make a positive impact. Even if it doesn’t manifest in the legislation, at least it’s students participating in something and they come away with (a sense of) empowerment that they can make a change.”

Not only students participated in the protest, however. Parents of students, including Jean Alter Johnson and Monique Lenhard, as well as staff, such as English teacher Harry Campion, came to support those who walked out. Johnson and Lenhard said while they came to support school safety with the staff and students, administration told them they had to stand at the other bleachers across the football field from the students, and they had visitors badges on.

“(I attended) to get the word out that we need more security for our kids in these schools and to make a change so everybody is safe in school everyday,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to come out and support the students and the movements. I believe they have a voice and can help make changes.”

Lenhard, who found out about the event via Facebook, said she hopes these student walkouts will encourage students to become involved in the political process in the future.

“People in this class will be voters soon,” Lenhard said. “Hopefully, they will make educated decisions when it’s their time to vote.”

Johnson said she hoped the walkout would bring awareness to problems with gun control and school safety issues. Simon Chen ’18 said he participated to commemorate the lives that were lost from school violence.

“Hopefully the views and mindsets of people from both sides of the argument (will change) because I think it’s very divided right now,” Chen said.

Morgan Wilson ’19 said he decided to participate because of what he read in the Northpointe. He doesn’t think this specific walkout will change anything, but all of the schools acting at the same time will get Congress’s attention.

“After I saw the piece the Northpointe put out about how they were upset about how non-politicized it was, I was interested to see how the event worked out,” Wilson said.

English teacher Harry Campion said he participated in the walkout because he cares about his students’ safety and doesn’t think enough attention, especially nationally, has been given for the deaths in the Florida shooting.

Alexis Cavaletto ’19 agreed, hoping the walkout would call the attention of students especially.

“Hopefully this march can (set an) example for other kids our age to stand up and know what’s right,” Cavaletto said. “(Students can) make a statement in the world to do something about guns or restrict them more. (We could also do) something about kids with problems at school that have to get more help.”

Some students and teachers opted to not participate in the walkout, including Melinda Chown ’18. Initially, Chown thought the walkout was a memorial for the victims of the shooting, which she supported and would have attended. However, she felt that the event was made to be partisan, which didn’t correlate with her own beliefs.

“I think that the issue is more about the people with the guns and not the guns themselves,” Chown said. “So, I think that there should be stronger background checks and such, but I don’t think taking the guns away (or enacting) stronger gun reform would change anything because if you want to obtain a gun, you can if you have strong enough determination.”

Math teacher David Martin said he did not participate in the walkout because only three of the 28 students in his class participated. He said if everyone had walked out he would have, and he fully supports the event. 

“As a teacher and as a parent I always want schools to be safe. I think some things need to change for schools to be safer. I am all for any sort of measurements that are going to make that possible,” Martin said. “If you reduce it to one issue, I think that’s taking a very myopic view. It’s not about guns, it’s about mental illness, it’s such a broad issue that if you reduce it to one issue I think that’s a very myopic view.”

Kendall Volpe ’19 was one of the four people who gave speeches at the event, along with Lynch, Diehlee and Alice Scott ’21.Volpe said she did not organize the walkout, but was asked to speak at the event and was eager to do so because she heard administration had made it nonpartisan.

“I heard when the walkout was originally organized, it was on a liberal basis,” Volpe said. “When the students organizing it took it to administration, they wanted to make it nonpartisan. That way, everyone could participate and nobody could say it was unfair. I also know they got the police involved to keep everybody safe.”

However, Volpe said she was confused as to if the event was non-partisan because of the content of the other speeches.

“When they first asked me (to speak), I was super excited about it, because I thought, ‘this is definitely something I can put a word into because I know it was supposed to be non-partisan,’” Volpe said. “As we got closer to the event, I started hearing different things about what it was actually about and how the students who organized it had a separate agenda planned. I was  conflicted at that point.The speech that I wrote was really neutral and it was based on the value of education.”

However, Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus said the district supported this event because it was nonpartisan. The district also backed the walkout because it was discussed, planned and announced ahead of time. The goal was to commemorate the victims of the Florida shooting.

He said usually the district likes to do these events before or after school, but this one is different in that it is a board precedent and the criteria has been sent out to everyone.

“If we want to make it a political issue, to me those ought to be held before or after school,” Niehaus said. “The reason we went behind that is because we came into common ground with all those and came up with a common message, a common place, a common theme to be able to have that happen.”

Niehaus said the district has three stipulations they laid out before running the event; they were respecting the victims of the Florida shooting, showing they want an end to school violence, and requesting the resources to try to prevent school gun violence.

“That’s the three reasons we’re going out for this event. Whatever’s going on statewide or nationally, is everybody else’s business. What we’re trying to do is make it something that we can focus on, that we have control over,” Niehaus said.