By Suzannah Peckham, Lily Grenis, Dan Mezzalingua and Sydney Spector
Today at at 10 a.m. approximately 160 Manlius Pebble Hill School Middle and Upper School students walked out of class to remember the victims of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that took 17 lives and to protest for gun control.
Students from grades six through 12 participated in the 17-minute walkout, which took place across the nation on March 14, but was delayed at MPH due to a snow day.
Dozens of students filed out of the Phoenix main entrance, laughing and conversing among themselves, but all fell still upon reaching the parking lot where they would gather, united in a silent agreement of respect and vigilance.
As the final participants trickled from the double-doors and made their way into the circle, seniors Aiden Meyer and Isabella Casella took turns reading the names of the 17 victims aloud with a red megaphone. The flag was at half-staff.
Upperclassmen silently distributed protest signs to those around them, dotting the colorful sea of winter coats with white. Middle schoolers huddled together beneath fuzzy blankets as the group fell into a moment of silence. Heads bowed and hands joined as the frosty March wind swirled between students of all kinds, including students visiting all the way from Denmark.
The protest then took on a more political tone as the students prepared to march. Meyer and Casella began chants calling for gun control and legislative reform. Despite many drippy noses and freezing hands, the morning sun glinting off the school buildings seemed symbolic of the light in the dark — young voices rising up in a call for change in the midst of terrible tragedy.
“I believe in this,” said junior Grace Zhang. “I’m a student, this is my country. There are students all over the country that are getting shot. It’s the responsibility of all students to make sure that our fellows don’t get shot. It’s something basic.”
Senior Hannah Ebner said that the march was essential so the students could be heard, as they have historically been ignored when it comes to national issues regarding gun violence.
“I think it’s really important for the people who are most affected by this epidemic of gun violence to have a voice in their rights,” Ebner said. “And I think as students, we are often the most affected but unheard group of people in this issue.”
Ebner added that she was grateful to have a platform to express her aggravation towards gun violence and lack of reform for gun laws. She, along with many other students, were pleased they could make an impact—no matter the size—on this nationwide debate.
“I think it was really great that the school allowed us to express our political beliefs and protest,” said junior Leo Alaghband. “I honestly wish we could’ve gone downtown but I think it’s still great that the school supported us in our protest.”
“I think it’s great that so many people came out to pay tribute those we have lost and protested Congress’s lack of action on this issue,” said senior Jeffrey Bush. “It’s really inspiring to me to see all these [students] out here today.”
Casella started the rally with a speech in which she listed things that as an 18-year old, she can’t do. She can’t drink, but she can go to the store and buy a gun. She then said that since February 14, there hasn’t been a significant change. The students from Parkland should not have died in vain.
Students held signs with messages of protest. “This is a school, not a war zone.” “Fear has no place in school.” “Gun violence, who pays?” “Protect us, not your wallets.”
Then the students marched around the circle chanting their protests.
“No guns today, we want to survive the school day,” “School zone, not a war zone,” “Grades up, guns down,” and “Protect our kids, not your guns.”
Young students marched as well. Seventh grader Bianca Grund held a sign and marched proudly. Her older sister, Brittany has friends who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Her peers march alongside her. Some of them had blankets wrapped around their shoulders. Despite the clear blue sky, the air was absolutely freezing.
Towards the end of the 17 minute protest, students were asked to remain quiet for the last five minutes and join hands. Some of the middle schoolers joined hands in the middle of the larger circle of students.
Silent, the students showed their solidarity with Parkland, even if it was a day after the original event.
Thousands of schools across the country participated in the National School Walk out yesterday, including many local schools, to honor the Parkland shooting victims and call for gun control measures. More than 700 students marched at West Genesee High School, while some schools had gatherings inside instead, such as Nottingham High School, where more than 100 students spoke out against gun violence in the gymnasium.
Several schools where marches were planned had snow days, including at MPH, so some of those students took their message elsewhere. Students at Jamesville-DeWitt picketed instead outside of Congressman John Katko’s office. One sign read, “They closed our school, but you can’t shut our mouths.”
MPH simply delayed its rally until today.
Senior Keerthi Martin said he participated in the march to remember the victims and to help make a difference.
“It’s important to pay respects and memoriam to all the lives that were lost in the Parkland shooting,” he said. “But then also for gun control. I think that’s a conversation that we need to have at least raise awareness for. I talked with my parents and they said even if the government doesn’t change anything, if they don’t raise the age limit, or if they don’t change the laws, at least what we’re doing as a school, across the country, our school alone can’t make a difference but collectively we can make a difference.
“But if we just raise that awareness it goes a long way in the future, and I think that’s the best thing we can do as this point. Pay respects and just raise awareness by starting that conversation.
Some students decided not to participate in the walkout. Philip Lynch, a senior, was among them.
“I feel like the notion of walking out of a school to protest against gun violence isn’t really going to prove a point and there are better ways that this could be done,” he said.
Sophomore Aaron Lesch also remained inside while the walkout occured.
“The original vision of the walkout,” Lesch said, “for this one particularly, was to commemorate the 17 lives lost, and I really don’t appreciate that it’s now been incorporated with guns and stuff like that. I really liked how they were separate. I do not agree with both of the ideologies.”
Two more marches that are scheduled. There will be one on March 24, titled March For Our Lives, which will take place in Washington D.C. and in cities around the country, including Syracuse.
The next national student walk out is scheduled for April 20, which will be the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, the first major school shooting where 13 people were killed.