by Becky GINOS
BOUNTIFUL—It was an emotional scene – 17 empty chairs sitting in the Bountiful High gym with a picture of a victim from the Parkland, Fla. shooting attached to each seat. In honor of those who lost their lives and to bring awareness to school safety, students at the school joined thousands of others across the nation in a peaceful walkout March 14 – one month since the deadly school massacre.
Bountiful High student body officer James Madsen organized the event that took place from 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. to symbolize the 17 people killed.
“I’m passionate about this issue of safety and guns,” said Madsen. “We need to know what’s going on in government and create an opportunity to understand each other’s opinion instead of resorting to group polarization. I spent a week in Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Senate Youth Delegate with 100 others. My roommate was from Parkland. It made me want to make a difference in my community.”
Madsen read each victim’s name then invited students to come forward and share their thoughts.
“Time and time again we’ve heard youth say they don’t like politics,” said one teen. “It is not the time to not care when 17 people lay dead. We must point out our similarities not our differences and use our rights as citizens. Look around you and point out 17 people in your life who mean something to you. Go home and get educated. We don’t think this can happen here – but it can. Ignorance does not stop the political turmoil taking our lives. Enough is enough.”
Another boy said it’s easy to get emotional. “Rely on how you feel,” he said. “Don’t blame guns, that’s not the problem. I believe it is mental illness. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Help other people who are going through mental illness. My friend killed himself with a gun he got from the black market. If they have a desire to do it they will.”
“We’re the ones at the forefront of the situation,” said one student. “Our country needs some sort of change. Change comes with conversation. I hope this is the start of something different.”
Fighting back tears, another girl gave her thoughts. “Give these people as much respect as you can,” she said. “They were killed at school, a place where you should come to learn. The kid who shot these people needed help and didn’t get it. This needs to stop happening. Imagine if when you walk into school one day that’s your last day alive because you were shot.”
“This feels right, it feels respectful,” said another boy. “I feel this is more of a problem than just guns, it’s mental illness. Much more needs to be fixed by people like us standing up. Just by being here is a statement on its own.”
Focusing on bullying and accepting others is a start, said one girl. “It is important to accept each other in spite of our differences,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going on in their heads. We should be the generation who is accepting.”
“All these people (killed) had hopes and dreams,” said another student. “That was all taken away in a minute by one person.”
Another teen shared his personal struggle with acceptance. “Everywhere I go darkness follows me,” he said. “Simply thinking you’re not worth it. Don’t be that person. The only way I’m still alive is my friends that I found in junior high. They gave me hope for life. Each of you has that power. Open up your mouth and say something. Show that person who is alone they’re worth something.”
After a moment of silence to remember the victims, the students silently filed out some taking a moment to look at the pictures on the chairs and hug each other.
“I’m super proud of the way our kids understand the issue and articulated it,” said Bountiful High Principal Aaron Hogge. “It was the most peaceful and impactful demonstration that I’ve seen. As adults we think we know how to fix it but we haven’t – these kids did it.”
Hogge said Madsen came to him with the plan. “He was very respectful,” said Hogge. “He was there to support the students and let them voice their opinion for good. It was emotional talking about 17 people who died. I knew all along this would be the kind of walkout we’d have, that they would not mock it. I’m really proud of them. These kids are really sincere.” respectful.”