Rise Up – SDA Joins National Walkout
March 14, 2018
The intercom crackled. With a powerful, assured tone, Principal Adam Camacho’s voice traveled across campus. Shortly thereafter, students did as well. They filtered out, initially in small batches, then growing in size.
There was no chanting. No yelling. About 900 students gathered around the PAC, some of them taking seats on the concrete, then filling up the lawn in front of the amphitheater for the walkout Wednesday.
Several police officers, scattered around the PAC, stood with their arms crossed, solemn.
The buzz of conversation quickly subsided as junior Francesca Finley, one of the walkout organizers, requested a minute of silence for the lives lost. In the deep silence, simple cardboard signs bobbed in the sea of students: “We ♥ Florida” “90% of the USA wants strict GUN CONTROL” “☮”
The silence was broken by Finley, her purpose quickly apparent: “Jaime 14, Martin, 14, Aaron 37, Gina, 14…”
The SDA walkout was part of a National School Walkout to protest gun violence on March 14, the one month anniversary of the Parkland shooting. The protest lasted 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost in Parkland, and consisted of several moments of silence as well as speeches from Finley, senior Olivia Hussey, and junior Stephen Baker. Students did not face penalty from administration for leaving class.
The student speeches all called for stricter gun control, including universal background checks, the banning of bump stocks, and the reduction of NRA presence in the government.
Baker said, “Will you please tell me why it is harder to get an A in high school than it is to buy an assault rifle when its only use is destruction?”
“The NRA is a symptom of the epidemic of lobbying power that infects our democratic institution at the price of our lives,” Hussey said.
While the protest was focused on gun violence, the speeches also included empowering messages to the students about making their voices heard. “I’m done living in fear. We will no longer be silenced. This is the beginning of a revolution. Our voices are getting louder and stronger,” Finley said. “Just wait. We will be heard by the world and when we are, there will be change and our kids will NOT be afraid to go to school.”
The event was heavily supported by the student body. “When I heard that there was going to be a walk out and it’s only for seventeen minutes and the teachers are going to let us, I thought, ‘That is such a good idea. It’s not going to do anyone any harm. It’s only supporting,’” said junior Charis Hagen.
“I chose to march because I think what we have at SDA this ability to band together and this unity between the adults and the kids to stand together for a cause is really unique,” senior Alex Schenkhuizen said.
“I didn’t think it would be as emotionally charged as it was,” said senior Tessa Lee.
“I felt something in the beginning when they named all the kids,” said senior Emma Goralski. “I was torn.”
Although many students were confident with their participation, some thoughts of concern lingered with some, given the topic matter and recent events. “I was kind of worried about my safety. Someone pointed out to me that it would be easy to shoot when we were protesting,” said senior Savannah Clark.
Camacho’s main concern was ensuring student safety, which is why the entrance gate to the parking was closed and law enforcement was present. “It was just about making sure that we could be safe, that it could be done at a safe place, and I think we managed that to the best of our ability,” he said.
No outsiders attempted to enter, however, parents and community members stood at the perimeter in support.
Unlike last year’s post-election walk out, administration did not penalize students for attending the event, as long as they returned to class in a reasonable amount of time. Camacho said administration worked with the student organizers and ASB on the walkout because it is a First Amendment right, not due to their own beliefs about gun control: “It’s really about any students’ right to demonstrate, protest and express their freedom of speech.”
“I was excited. I was pleased that our students had the energy to do something,” Camacho said. “It felt like a really profound, really well organized, student-led event.”
Camacho said he received only positive responses from teachers, although many did not attend as they had students who stayed in the classroom.
“I am equally proud of the students who organized, participated in, and those who exercised their right to stay back in their classrooms,” Assistant Principal Celeste Abdelnaby said. “I thought the ones who participated were respectful. I think they handled things very well. I’m really proud of our students today.”
– Sophie Hughes, Joice He, Nohemia Rosales, Erin Maxwell, Lane Levin, Mallika Seshadri, and Simmone Stearn contributed to this story