Login to Claremont COURIER

CHS joins National Walk Out protest

Hundreds of students at Claremont High School walked out of their classes to unite under one message—never again.

The walkout was part of a national movement on Wednesday morning, as students gathered in central quad for 17 minutes—one minute for each student who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14. School officials, parents and community members, including 45 or so residents from Pilgrim Place, met the students to cheer them on.

“I decided to walk out today because, personally, I’m tired of the lack of legislation on gun control laws,” CHS junior Evelyn Downer, who leads the Black Student Union, said.  “And as a student, I don’t want to be afraid to come to school.”

The walkout began at 9:55 a.m., when the bell rang and signaled the end of second period. Students, some holding signs with slogans such as “enough is enough” and “thoughts and prayers matter, but action matters more,” quickly filled the quad.

But support began earlier in the morning, as Pilgrims like Karl Hilgert met the students with supportive signs as they filled in to begin the day. Mr. Hilgert’s sign read, “In support of safe schools and youth empowerment.”

“I believe very strongly, as a community organizer, in helping more young people, and it looks like they are taking the lead on this in many respects,” Mr. Hilgert said. “So we want to be supportive of them.”

Students worked with the Pilgrims to create a Twitter hashtag for the event: #WithYOUthAndWeVote, which was displayed on a banner held by Alison Stendahl and Bob Hurd.

The walkout began with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by the CHS chamber singers, as well as statements and poems from students and a moment of silence.

Students Alexandra Rivasplata and Sarah Michal Hamid read a poem titled “We the People” that used the framework of the Declaration of Independence as a call to action.

“We scream with our pencils held high that we demand change,” the two students said, “And in order to do so, we must be the change. We do not want metal detectors, we do not want armed teachers; we want sustained action.”

Students Faith Nishimura and Astrid Petropoulos read the names of each Parkland victim to the crowd, and students in attendance were encouraged to register to vote if they were 18 and to pre-register if they were 16 or 17. Flyers were posted around campus with information on how students can register.

“You have a voice, do not be afraid to use it,” CHS student Madeleine Adolph said. “Together, we can ensure that this happens never again.”

Enrique Robles, a representative of Congresswoman Judy Chu, was at the school to accept a petition with more than a thousand student signatures urging for tighter gun control legislation.

Student Maya Aga, who co-organized the event with classmate Katherine Arboleda, noted that the demonstration was entirely student-run and included members of clubs Stand Up CHS, the Gender Sexuality Alliance, the Black Student Union and the Feminist Club, among others.

She was inspired to organize a walkout after reading about how the victims in Parkland were just like the people she knew in her life. Maya, who is also a student rep on the CUSD board of education, emailed CHS principal Brett O’Connor and, in her words, “it blew up from there.”

School administrators elected not to talk to the press, asking that the focus stay on the students. Mr. O’Connor did require that all visiting adults sign in with the school to get a visitors pass. Also, he said any student who did not want to participate could stay in their classroom with a teacher. 

CHS junior Paula Uribe, one of the speakers during the walkout, has a special connection to the Parkland shooting—her cousin is a student at Stoneman Douglas High School. On the day of the shooting, she received a phone call from him crying and saying there was an active shooter on campus.

“Just hearing his voice and how it was trembling with fear, I didn’t want that to happen on my campus with my friends,” she said. “I didn’t want my mom to receive that phone call, telling her that something like that happened.”

Paula’s cousin wasn’t hurt, but his best friend was shot and survived. His best friend’s sister, however, was killed.

Paula was one of the students who placed headstones around a tree in central quad, each memorializing a student or teacher who died in the shooting.

“We really wanted people to go over to that tree and see the stones and see pictures and their names, because they’re not just numbers, they are 17 people,” she said. “They all have names and they all have families.”

Evelyn Downer said the Parkland shooting made her think of her grandmother, who is a retired schoolteacher and who could have been in a similar situation. But the shooting itself did not surprise her.

“I’d say in this generation, we’ve become quite used to this kind of news,” she said.

Student Josh Sanchez said hearing about the Parkland shooting made him realize that a mass shooting of this magnitude can happen anywhere.

“I think we’re all kind of a little bit afraid, and so this is our way of showing that we have to stand together and keep each other strong,” he said.

CHS senior Violet Alvarez-Johnson said the shooting led her to have a tough conversation with her younger sister. “If anything happened like that, don’t wait for me, just be safe,” she said. “It’s very difficult to have that conversation with someone.”

Even if one didn’t agree with the students’ call for stricter gun laws, she added, it is important to honor and memorialize the victims.

When asked what message they wanted to send to lawmakers, the students did not hesitate—enough is enough, and it’s time to take action. 

“We are ready to say that we are the future, and we will not allow this to happen again, because we are the change,” Maya said.

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

 

Correction: this article erroneously identified the Gender Sexuality Alliance in a previous version. It has been corrected.