As 10 a.m. approached each of their schools, students and some teachers poured out of their classrooms in Scarsdale, Edgemont and thousands of other communities around the country in student-led walkouts March 14.
The walkouts, organized solely by students to honor the 17 victims killed a month ago in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, served as a memorial, a call for change and a protest over gun violence.
At Edgemont Junior/Senior High School, senior Shruti Kanna and three of her classmates led the effort to organize a student-run school walkout. According to Kanna, many students in grades 7 to 12 walked out in support of gun safety legislation and listened to student leaders making speeches about youth empowerment and the need for national gun safety legislation. Students from the Edgemont High School Chamber Choir sang in memory of the lives lost in the Florida shooting, and the participants observed an extended moment of silence in honor of all the lives lost to gun violence.
At Scarsdale High School, Alexa Trujillo, a senior and one of the walkout organizers, told The Inquirer it took about a month to plan the program as many people with different views wanted to be involved. But all were working for the same cause. “The teachers here have always told us to speak up for what is right and share our voices as global citizens,” Trujillo said, “and this feels like a really great way to do that.”
With about 1,000 assembled on Butler Field, 17 SHS students — selected by grade and gender or sports affiliation to coincide with the victims they memorialized — recited names and brief biographies followed by a moment of silence for each of the Parkland victims. Seven SHS students together remembered Scott Beigel, a Parkland teacher who touched their lives at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania, where he spent 28 summers as a camper and counselor.
After the memorials, SHS a capella group For Good Measure sang “Shine,” followed by a pause in the program so anyone who chose not to stay for the political speeches had a chance to leave the field. About 200 filed quietly back into the school, some because it was too cold outside and others because they disagreed with the use of a tragedy to help or hurt a cause, or they disagreed with the political rhetoric surrounding gun control.
Anthony D’Ambrosio, a senior who left the assembly, said, “I didn’t believe in what was being said. I don’t think we should be leaving school because this is an issue that doesn’t have to do with us. We are teenagers and don’t need to have teachers and other students assuming what I want and need to do.”
In a series of speeches, the students called for common sense gun safety legislation and more resources for mental health treatment and intervention to prevent gun violence in schools and communities.
“We are the generation that can make a change,” was a recurring theme, as the speakers called upon their peers to stand with the Parkland students and speak up to elected officials.
Another speaker, who said she struggles with anxiety and depression, called for more resources and education for the treatment of mental illness.
SHS Principal Ken Bonamo and many others were moved to tears during the event.
“It was a really beautiful and moving tribute to the victims,” Bonamo told The Inquirer. “It was wonderful to see students doing something for people who could have, frankly, been them, and to take a political stand and maybe, for the first time, experience political action and engagement.”
Activities were planned later in the day at the school to help the student activists register to vote, sign a petition and write letters or make calls to lawmakers.
Those who want to continue taking action on these issues will make posters at school Friday, March 23, in preparation for the nationwide March for Our Lives on March 24.
The walkout action also inspired students at Scarsdale Middle School, where nearly 450 walked out for about 17 minutes at 10 a.m., some with posters they had made for the occasion. According to SMS Principal Meghan Troy, the students were mostly quiet during the walkout, and during the school day, some students organized a post-it “I Wish Wall” where people could write what they wish for in terms of kindness, peace, friendship, no more bullying and no more violence.
“Our education role is not only to expose students to the different disciplines and prepare them for the rigors of college and the workplace, but of course to create an informed and engaged citizenry,” Bonamo said. “I hope they realize their voices count and, through collective action, they can make a difference in the world.”
— with reporting by Steven Orlofsky