Why I Walked Out Of School — ‘Never Again’
I have always been compliant; respectful of authority and rules. Wednesday, however, while most Farmington High School students reported to their homerooms for attendance, I walked into the student courtyard and was met by a large group of classmates. We removed our hoodies and unzipped our jackets to proudly unveil our orange shirts. Then, we marched, chanting with signs of protest, heading toward town hall at the foot of the hill.
Our goal was to join the National School Walkout to advocate for reasonable gun control legislation. Sparked by the fatal shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, the walkout was to protest the lack of response by our elected leaders to the nation’s gun violence.
We were physically blocked by the school resource officer and the school monitor from leaving the parking lot, so we headed for another path. We passed a teacher who directed us to remain in the parking lot. We walked past her chanting “Enough is enough.” We again encountered the resource officer, now accompanied by an assistant principal, who stood in front of us.
I felt like the world was moving in slow motion.
I took a deep breath and strode past them, my classmates following. We were now chanting, “How many more?” As we neared town hall, I began to cry. That was the moment that the tragic fact of school shootings became so much more real. I fully grasped that I could have been one of the 17 in Parkland or one of the 26 in Newtown or one of the 13 in Columbine. It was also when I understood that we were now a part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
When we reached town hall, we were met by media and were cheered on by supportive community members.
Several students spoke at town hall, making desperate and passionate pleas to Congress to prevent another atrocious mass shooting from happening. For 15 minutes, we chanted and cheered. We observed a moment of silence. We marched back to school where we completed one final lap around the student courtyard, trying so hard to make sure our voices were heard. Our speeches, chants and signs made one point. We made it as clearly as we could: We will not back down.
I initially had approached the high school administration to solicit their support for our participation in the walkout. Unfortunately, administrators determined that they could sponsor only an “apolitical” gathering. They decided to hold an assembly and to require that students not speak in support of specific goals or policies. As the administration’s restrictions took shape, I grew uncomfortable with how far this event strayed from the original intention to back the students in Parkland, who are advocating for stricter gun laws. Morally, I felt I could not speak in an assembly that was solely dedicated to “grieving” and “thoughts.”
I talked to my parents about my concerns. They said I had three options. To attend the assembly and limit my remarks to comply with the administration’s rules, to attend but defy the rules by speaking in favor of gun control or to participate in an unsanctioned walkout. They said they would support my decision. The first option seemed pointless and the second option seemed wrong. I wanted to be honest and transparent with the school administrators who I respect and trust. The third option served my goal of publicly demanding change. So, I, with two of my classmates, seniors Julia Conturso and Sasha Goldblatt, organized a group of passionate students to participate in an unsanctioned school walkout. I was surprised at how many of my classmates cared about the cause and were eager to join. I wasn’t nervous because I knew that any potential consequence was less important than being heard.
I am glad we followed our convictions. The protest has reinforced in me the idea that some things are so important that you cannot back down. Many Farmington High School students plan to attend the “March for Our Lives” walk March 24 at the Capitol in Hartford. Students are also interested in organizing a demonstration for the April 20 school walkout in honor of the 20-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Our unsanctioned school walkout gained notable media attention but, more important, it has inspired more students to join this movement to push Congress to pass reasonable gun control legislation and save lives. Many of the students who participated in this walkout are old enough to vote, or soon will be, and they will perform this civic duty in order to choose representatives who will get this job done. My biggest priority now is helping to ensure that Farmington students continue to fight this fight by participating in the upcoming events and by registering to vote. Never again.
Maggie McGuire is a senior at Farmington High School.