BOONE — For 17 minutes, 150 to 200 Watauga High School students stood in silence on March 16.
The moment of silence was part of a national “Walk Out” event in remembrance of each of the 14 students and three teachers killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Walk Out events were simultaneously happening across the country on March 14. However, as Watauga County Schools were out of school due to snow, the event was moved to the following Friday.
Superintendent Scott Elliott said the event was student led, after multiple groups of students expressed interest in participating in the national student Walk Out. The Walk Out took place during the students’ flex time, so Elliott said there wasn’t any time lost from their instructional day.
He said school staff planned well in advance to ensure that there was adequate supervision of students both inside and for those who chose to participate outside. Personnel from the Boone Police Department and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office were also on scene to ensure student safety.
“We all learned in civics class from Tinker vs. Des Moines that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door,” Elliott said in a statement. “As school administrators, it is our job to help protect those rights while also maintaining a safe learning environment for all students. Whether we agree or disagree with the content of their speech is irrelevant as long as that form of speech is not harmful or disruptive to the learning environment.”
Under the leadership of Student Body President Mary Lovins, multiple students had the opportunity to speak to their peers.
WHS junior Spencer Ball spoke to his classmates, sating it’s easy to participate in events like the Walk Out to remember shooting victims, but it’s also easy for society to forget and move on.
“It’s important for us, the public, to not forget,” Ball said. “It’s not just Parkland we need to remember, it’s the one student killed in Alabama, it’s the 27 at Sandy Hook and it’s the 13 at Columbine — which most of us weren’t even alive for. Isn’t that insane? We have never been in a world where school shootings were not a threat.”
Ball said that because students are the ones being affected by these shootings, it’s important that their voices be heard even if they are too young to vote.
“It’s our turn to fix this world for ourselves, our children and future generations, because this isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue. This affects all of us,” Ball said. “It’s up to us to be on the front lines because the world is changing, and we are the generation that gets to decide if that change is good.”
Linnea Mink, a junior, shared her story with her peers of how her father, who was “severely mentally ill and domestically violent,” obtained a firearm and used it to take his own life 11 years ago. She said her family is often told that they were lucky he didn’t take them with him.
“A countless number of us have been negatively affected by America’s faulty gun laws and that number is growing drastically,” Mink said. “Look at the fruit we cultivate on our own soil, a society in which massacres of children have become normalized. Is that what being American has become? Are our hearts not aching enough for the loss of our communities?”
Mink said America is in need of gun reform. She said instead of fighting each other, it was time for people to stand together and use that energy to foster a society in which gun violence is not permitted.
“America must learn to respect the rights of citizens to live unafraid as much as we respect the right to own firearms,” Mink said.
Several other students such as Stryker Massimo (junior), Emily Smith (junior) and Ella Brown (sophomore) also addressed their classmates. Students were then invited to write messages on a memory board where they could express feelings and opinions concerning school shootings and gun violence.
It was not clear how many of the students were walking out in support of stricter gun laws. Some students could be seen in the crowd wearing National Rifle Association shirts as well as holding a “Don’t tread on me” flag.
Elliott said he appreciated that the students communicated and worked together in a manner that gave the student perspective a voice while also being respectful of different opinions and perspectives among their peers.
March for Our Lives
On March 24, a national “March for Our Lives” event is scheduled in Washington, D.C., where over 500,000 are expected to march “to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings.” A bus was being organized to travel from Boone to the rally.
Community members are expected to host their own “March for Our Lives” event in downtown Boone at 2:30 p.m. that day.