I woke up on February 15, 2018 excited for my family to fly out to China for the first time since starting school at NYU Shanghai. I unlocked my phone, ready to call my parents at the airport, but immediately I noticed more messages than usual. Within minutes, my world back home had been shattered; my high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was victim of a mass shooting that left 17 people dead and many more injured.
I sat in my bed in shock and disbelief, staring at my phone only capable of forming the word “why” before I broke down. I worried about my friends’ siblings, my brother’s friends, all of whom still attended Douglas.While my brother had transferred high schools last year, my sister and her classmates attended Westglades Middle School right next door. My small hometown of Parkland was known for having created a safe community, and the mere thought of tragedy was inconceivable.
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything but read through countless articles and watch news videos in an attempt to learn more about the severity of the attack. As the names and pictures of victims were released, the harsh reality only sunk in deeper. Kids I recognized from hallways, siblings of classmates, and teachers and coaches that shaped my experience in high school lost their lives within minutes. The senseless tirade by a former student with an AR-15, Nikolas Cruz, who my friends and I remember most clearly for the threatening outbursts that got him expelled from high school, came back to Stoneman Douglas and took 17 innocent lives. Helicopters and media swarmed my town within hours, and Parkland was transformed from a quiet and safe town to being associated with tragedy. Parkland is now home to the deadliest high school shooting in United States history.
I was able to grow up in Parkland under the assumption that nothing bad could ever happen there. Tragedies like Sandy Hook moved many communities around the nation before, but no one could ever imagine that they, too, would be faced with the same tragic experiences. The students of Stoneman Douglas High School had their innocence taken away in the worst way possible. They were brought face to face with the harrowing reality of gun violence and mass shootings. Hiding in the corner of classrooms, accepting the fact that the next moments might have been their last, and learning of the murders of their closest friends are things no human should ever have to face.
Photos of memorials, along with videos of vigils and accounts from survivors allowed me to feel closer to home during this time. My family, who arrived in Shanghai the next day, as well as my friends back home and here at NYUSH, acted as my support system. The entirety of Parkland and Coral Springs unified in light of the tragedy and reminded me of the beauty of my tight-knit community, with memorial funds and alumni outreach groups created within days of the attack.
One of the most impressive things about Parkland, has been the fearlessness of the survivors, and those who lost loved ones fighting to prevent a horror like this from happening again. My former classmates are calling out lawmakers who refuse to take an active stance for policies that would diminish the prevalence of these tragedies. Students like Emma González, Cameron Kasky, and Sarah Chadwick have urged politicians in Florida and throughout the United States to make changes to gun policies. They have gained widespread attention for their efforts through the #NeverAgain movement and March for Our Lives campaign. I hold so much pride and respect for the people of my town. However, my support can only go as far as the computer screen.
From over 8,000 miles away, I reached out to the March for Our Lives team, shared posts online, encouraged those in the United States to participate in important activism, and have contacted representatives and senators in an attempt to do my part as an affected citizen. Despite my distance from home, I, along with the rest of my widespread alumni community, have shown unconditional support for the students of Stoneman Douglas as much as we can.
The gun control debate should not be one of partisanship. Stricter regulations on required age of purchase, which firearms can be bought and owned by civilians, and better school security are all measures that are agreed upon by a majority of the American population. Yet, these policy changes are still met with disapproval from many politicians. My community’s encouragement to challenge these politicians has been an inspiration for many around the country. Gun control does not aim to take away the constitutional right to bear arms, and many gun-owning, law-abiding citizens are aware of this. The activism of the country in light of Parkland educates those in denial of this, and has already seen great support and the beginnings of effective change in legislation.
Over the past month, we still feel the same grief and anguish, and we remember the 17 lives tragically lost on February 14, 2018. The students and faculty of Stoneman Douglas, however, refuse to let the victims’ deaths be in vain, and fight for visible change to prevent others from experiencing this pain. In just over a week, thousands around the world will march for this change, and show politicians that we refuse to sit around and wait for another tragedy to occur. The words “be the change you wish to see in the world” are painted over the entrance of my high school, and the united people of Parkland are working tirelessly to do just that. I may be far away, but as I offer my support, I am more proud than ever to call Parkland home.