Photo Credit: Dan Jackson
Students gather in the atrium at North Oconee High School.
Joining many thousands of students across the country, 1,000 students at Oconee and North Oconee high schools walked out of their classes Wednesday, Mar. 14 at 10 a.m., observing the one-month anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that left 17 students and faculty members dead.
After much debate among students about actually walking out of the school, Oconee High’s student council worked with the administration to develop a plan to honor each of the Florida victims, and selected 17 students to describe each victim in a 20-second speech. As hundreds of students locked arms along the entire length of the school’s hallways, the students read short biographies of the victims over the school’s PA system.
At North Oconee High School, the planning for the walkout took place as students began texting each other to discuss ways to express their grief about the Parkland victims, with the group swelling to 200. Organizers obtained the principal’s permission to meet at the common area in the center of the school, where the students observed 17 minutes of silence. Some students carried signs that had been approved by the school’s principal.
Alex Benoit, one of the student planners of the Oconee High observance, reported that “most” of the school’s students participated in the walkout, and that only “a few” of the school’s almost 1,100 students did not participate. When asked why he thought Parkland prompted such widespread sentiment, Benoit said, “This shooting was different mostly because the students speaking out at Parkland made a lot of students here think [we] can make a change too.”
Embyr Williams, a student at North Oconee High, said that the 200 students observing the silent vigil “stood completely silent, with no phones or other distractions. We tried to avoid making this an opportunity for students to get out of class, or to advocate for gun control.” She went on to say that the observance “felt very peaceful, very respectful, and it was really good to do something to honor the victims, and to understand that there is a problem going on. There was a real sense of community with my classmates.”
Students at Clarke County schools were on spring break last week.
The Mar. 14 events will be followed on Mar. 24 by March for Our Lives, a series of protests against gun violence and lax gun laws in Washington, D.C. and many other cities. Locally, two events are planned, one at 11 a.m. at Oconee Veterans Park, where state Reps. Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) and Jonathan Wallace (D-Watkinsville) will give remarks. Then, at 1 p.m., demonstrators against gun violence will meet at the UGA Arch.
On Apr. 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings, students at hundreds of schools across the country will stage walkouts to protest inaction on the issue of gun violence. According to an event locator on the Indivisible web site, students at ten Athens and nearby schools will walk out of class for what the organization calls “a nationwide protest of our leaders’ failure to pass laws that protect us from gun violence.”