On Wednesday, February 14th, 2018, the world witnessed one of the deadliest school shootings in its history. As everyone knows by now, seventeen people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an additional fourteen people being seriously injured. Nikolas Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, committed the crime with an AR-15 which he legally purchased. News of the massacre spread rapidly, evoking passionate and visceral online reactions as shocked people around the globe voiced their sympathy and solidarity with the victims.
University High School in San Francisco, which I attend, held moments of silence in virtually every class the day after the shooting. Some teachers even dispensed with the scheduled curriculum and devoted the entirety of their classes to open discussions of the tragedy. I began my Thursday morning with Spanish, and it was impossible to ignore the somber disposition of my classmates and teacher. I always give my close friends a hug or brief hand-squeeze in the morning before class begins, but this time that felt improper. I quickly sat down. My Spanish teacher, Amelia, said she would like to hold a minute of silence to honor the victims of the shooting. Following the silence, she spoke about the tragedy. UHS language programs are completely immersive, in that once a foreign language class begins, hardly any English is spoken unless clarifications need to be made. Amelia’s choice to speak entirely in English underscored the immense gravity of the situation. Before she could even formulate an entire sentence, she began to cry and sat down.
Emotions in my class were already raw, but witnessing a teacher cry, a figure students associate with stability and comfort, intensified an already charged atmosphere. After Amelia wiped her tears away, she said she really only wanted us to take away one thing from the shooting: she wanted us to imagine if UHS had been the targeted high school. She wanted us to imagine that we were the students crouching under tables and behind desks as we watched our friends and teachers being murdered. Above all, she wanted us to empathize with the survivors, and with the families of those who were killed. Having ended her monologue, having given us much to ponder, Amelia commenced the class.
Lunch at UHS is eaten every day in the student center, or as many students prefer to call it, the “stucen.” Energy is contagious, with food and friends enabling students to rejuvenate and re-energize one another before afternoon classes. Lunch is popularly described as the happiest part of the day. Seniors (I am a junior) constantly have music blaring out of the speakers, but you can hear the sounds of happy, engaged conversations as well. On this day, however, the usual vivaciousness of the student center was muted. The dominant emotion was downcast. Music was still playing from the senior section, students were still engaging in conversation and doing last-minute revisions of homework, but everything was being done solemnly, even apathetically. It was peculiar to see my friends and the greater student body in this mood, but the mood testified to the sensitivity of the UHS community. Yes, music was still playing and conversations were still flowing, but the overall energy of the student center was noticeably lower. Interestingly enough, aside from some brief words of criticism and disgust, hardly any of my friends spoke about the shooting during lunch. I didn’t know whether to attribute that to being burnt out from conversations during class, or to an association of the student center with lighter and carefree topics of dialogue, but it was surreal.
The event that took place in Parkland just over a month ago was deplorable, horrific, and devastating. But it was also preventable. In every conversation I had, either in class or at lunch, brief or thorough, at least one person touched on how preventable this massacre was. How is it possible that that a 19-year old with a history of behavioral issues and social media accounts centered around violence was able to legally obtain an assault rifle? How does this society permit such a thing?
I appreciate my high school, not just for promoting spaces in which we can conduct serious and even difficult conversations, but for having like-minded people to discuss these matters alongside me. Being exposed to different perspectives is important, and I am certain that I will meet many people who disagree with my opinions on gun rights in America. Nonetheless, hearing similar opinions was reassuring, especially in such a sensitive time. While having discussions with different perspectives is important and leaning into discomfort can be beneficial, finding reassurance and placation on that day was my source of stability. I hope to continue discussions like this both within and outside of the UHS community, and I am happily anticipating the student-led march on April 20th.