17 minutes for 17 lives


Photo courtesy of MC Toth

Students brought flowers to line the fence on the field where the memorial took place. The brainchild of administration and select leaders from each grade, the ceremony aimed to commemorate the teens and adults who fell victim to the Valentine’s Day massacre at Douglas County High School. “Imagine if we came together like this all the time. We wouldn’t be having these conversations about gun reform and school shootings if we were constantly supporting each other,” senior Kaylin Altman said.

Nadya Awino, Photo editor

Students nationwide walked out of their classrooms on March 14 to protest America’s current legislation on gun control in light of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Promoted through social media, the event called for students to walk out of their schools from 10:00 to 10:17 a.m., a minute representing each person that lost their lives in the massacre that claimed 17 lives.

“I’m so proud of everyone who walked out. They are such amazing people who will do amazing things,” senior Jordan Watt said.

Cobb County school superintendent Chris Ragsdale explicitly prohibited students from participating in any form of protest, but that did not stop students across the county from organizing against gun violence. A group of approximately 40 NC students made posters and sat in the foyer between the counseling and administration office, choosing not to exit the building due to the heavy presence of police and administration. Comprised of both underclassmen and upperclassmen, the kids took a stand against an issue they viewed as a social injustice.

Students knew administration would hand out consequences for their participation, but remained unsure of the specifics. After nearly a week of radio silence, kids assumed the school chose leniency over penalties. Six days after the event, students who walked out received the daunting pink referral form, earning themselves at least one day of in school suspension (ISS), with sentences varying based on their previous discipline record. Despite their punishment, they felt proud to join the movement on gun reform.

“At the end of the day, no matter what my punishment is, I’m still alive and breathing. Others lost their lives and they didn’t have a choice, but I had the choice to speak up and I took it,” senior Brooke Phillips said.

Using the hashtags #NationalWalkout, #NationalWalkoutDay, and #NeverAgain, teenagers took over Twitter with footage of classmates protesting, holding posters, and even marching to convey their message. Students at McEachern High School walked onto their football field and released balloons during their 17 minutes, while parents joined their children with signs at Walton High School.

“We didn’t walk anywhere, but they brought us into the gym and listened to students talk about how violence is never the answer, then the students read a poem and we all started chanting. It was really moving,” Etowah senior Julian Baldwin said.

Following an early release at 11:30 a.m., the school held a sanctioned memorial for students at 3:30 p.m. to honor the Parkland shooting victims. Through the combined efforts of NC diversity leaders, Tribal Connections (TC) members, and passionate students who participated in the walkout, students created posters and lined the fence with flowers in memory of those who died.

“I wish more people would’ve came. It was a beautiful gesture that didn’t get the recognition it deserved,” junior MC Toth said.

Like Cobb, the counties of Gwinnett, Hall, and Fayette did not support the demonstration, opting to maintain normal school operations instead. In contrast, other metro-Atlanta counties such as Cherokee, Clayton, Douglas, and Rockdale, allowed students and faculty to express themselves freely, as long as the protest remained safe and orderly. Bartow, Dekalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Henry, and Paulding County, as well as Marietta and Atlanta Public Schools directed schools to incorporate the walkout into their school day.

I join with other members of CCPS [Clayton County Public Schools] leadership in a belief that it is important to give our students a voice concerning critical matters that have a direct impact on their lives. They should be allowed an opportunity to participate in the democratic process to display their opinions within an instructional non-disruptive experience,” Clayton County superintendent Morcease Beasley said.