I am a member of the first generation of students to grow up in a learning environment where we were taught how to protect ourselves from school shooters: how to crouch so you won't be visible in a bathroom stall, and how to protect yourself in a supposed safe space. I have been training since kindergarten on how to be quiet during school shooter drills. In sixth grade, I was taught to “just play dead” and hide under the bodies of my classmates. Since eighth grade, my “mature classmates” and I have had the added responsibility to try to disarm a shooter.
Before we can even drive a car, we’re told we have the responsibility to sacrifice ourselves for others. We are told all these things every year. We have normalized this behavior. While bodies keep mounting, we have dehumanized them to the point that they are just a number.
Why Did I Get a 7th Birthday Party, But Not My Peers in Sandy Hook?
Remember the original Lion King? Remember when it opened, in 1994? That’s also the last time the federal government passed any form of gun control. That legislation only lasted 10 years. Our policymakers refused to renew it, even in 2012, when we watched 7-year-olds being gunned down in their elementary school. While I was in my Michigan classroom eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate to celebrate my 7th birthday, my 7-year-old peers in Connecticut were taking their last breath. I wore a purple crown with my name emblazoned with pink sparkly letters as we said their names in memoriam.
We need to stop playing games with young people's lives. We can't keep forgetting their names.
Jessica Rekos was a 6-year-old. She was just as excited to sell Girl Scout cookies as I was, but she never got to leave her classroom at Sandy Hook. When Peter Wang and Luke Hoyer were killed in the halls of Parkland, they were both the same age as I am now. Like me, Hana St. Juliana played volleyball, but she will never again step foot on the court at Oxford High School. This is not OK, and we need action.
We need to stop sending kids to school wondering in the back of their minds if they will return home.
If You’re A Young Person, Use Your Voice
As a young person, my voice is often discounted in this conversation. They say I'm getting involved in matters that I don't understand, I'm being foolish, or I'm too naive. What will be their excuse when I'm trapped in my classroom, unable to escape the threat that is perpetuated by this system? Why am I old enough to be killed but not old enough to be considered a valid voice?
We have robbed young people of their voices, their lives. We need politicians to prioritize saving lives over their careers. Why is a fear of not being re-elected more important than the 356 victims of the last 10 years? If you’re a young person, use your voice. Because others can't or won’t.