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State High Students Hold Memorial for Shooting Victims as Part of National Walkout

by on March 14, 2018 12:54 PM

Hundreds of State College Area High School students emerged from the school's front doors just before 10 a.m. on Wednesday to participate in a school-sanctioned memorial for the 17 victims of last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Students at more than 2,500 schools nationwide were expected to participate in a 17-minute walkout on Wednesday, the one-month anniversary of the shooting that has sparked protests and advocacy for stricter gun control and making schools safer.

State High students, working with administrators, focused their participation on remembering the victims. Students read the names and brief biographies of the 17 students and teachers killed at Stoneman Douglas High, followed by a moment of silence and the singing of "Somewhere" from "West Side Story" by State High choir members.

"It was hard. It’s way easier to say 17 people were shot and murdered than to read the lives of 17 people," said junior Jackson Harper, one of the event's organizers. "It puts you in their shoes. As I was reading mine, this was somebody I could have been friends with. To think that that could have happened to one of my friends if I was in Parkland, it is beyond upsetting. It’s beyond words. That was one of the most important messages we tried to convey today. I really think it worked and I am very proud everyone handled it very maturely."

Hundreds of students gathered outside of State College Area High School for a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com

Sophomore Kyra Gines read the name and background of 14-year-old victim Gina Montalto and said she felt it was important to be able to share some of Montalto's life.

"Just reading through her life, her passions, her interests, she was living, breathing, striving and she had so many passions that I could have had," Gines said. "These are all people that could have been walking beside us that we could have seen working years from now. To have lost them, they truly are the definition of gone too soon."

Junior Kayla Fatemi said that after the shooting many State High students have wanted to get involved in efforts to make schools safer. She said they recognized that school administrators couldn't advocate for a political agenda, but that there was no reason that students couldn't memorialize the victims and express their desires for safer schools.

"No student or teacher should die in a high school," Fatemi said. "It’s unacceptable and it must stop."

She added that by keeping the demonstration as a memorial without a political position it was more inclusive and students with differing viewpoints would feel more comfortable participating.

The high school permitted students who wished to participate during a flex period beginning at 10 a.m. to gather in the front courtyard. School and district staff and local police were on hand for security, and community members were not permitted to enter the area.

Students who did not go outside stayed in their classrooms and were allowed to spend the time writing to legislators or studying. Many students and teachers watched from the windows as the service took place outside.

State High choir members sang "Somewhere" at the end of the memorial. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com

Gines, Harper and Fatemi each said they were impressed with the number of students who came out in the cold and who watched from the windows.

"The fact that we got hundreds of people to come out for something that was voluntary was amazing," Harper said. "It really was a testament to the fact that students have more power than people give them credit for."

"Everybody was there, everybody was cold, but we were here for a cause," added Gines. "We showed what we were here for. This is us. This is what we’re going to do and what we’re going to continue to do."

State High Principal Curtis Johnson said he was proud of the students and that administrators agreed to allow them to exit the school for the event because of their message.

"They really wanted to memorialize these students and I felt there was nothing wrong with that," Johnson said. "We all want safe schools. How we get there, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things we need to look at as a community, as a state, as a country. I really appreciate the students coming together in a positive respectful way to make a difference."

Some students will take more political action in non-school-affiliated events. The first of those will be March for Our Lives - State College on March 24, a sister event to the national march the same day focused on combating gun violence.

Fatemi, who was born in late 1999 and is among the oldest in her senior class, noted that every student at the high school has lived in a post-Columbine world.

"Our life has always just been about gun shootings," she said. "We don’t remember a world where that wasn’t a regular occurrence. I think it’s no surprise that this generation that literally their entire lives have just grown up that way are the ones who are becoming emotional about this. We’re becoming of age, we’re becoming voters and citizens and we want to participate in our government and make a difference. We shouldn’t have to live this way."

Sophomore Kyra Gines, junior Jackson Harper and senior Kayla Fatemi



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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