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Why they march: Local students share fears, hopes since Parkland shooting

April 1, 2018 GMT

Student-led protests, marches and demands for an end to school violence have erupted across the United States.

The Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland, Fla., happened hundreds of miles from Rochester, but area students are not naive enough to think such a tragedy couldn’t happen in their own school hallways.

These are some of their thoughts:

Name: Anjali Goradia

Age: 17

Grade: Junior

School: Century High School

Even before the events of Feb. 14, Goradia was interested in making a difference. She volunteered at Mayo Clinic and helped with small service projects around the community. However, news of what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., left her cold and horrified.

“Unfortunately, because my generation of students is so used to hearing about school shootings and gun violence in schools, our reactions did not last very long,” Goradia said. “Teachers did not talk much about school safety after Parkland, and students did not ask about it because we have all become desensitized to the issue of gun violence in our schools.”

But the Parkland shootings changed the conversation, she said. Anger and fear burst into demands for action. Goradia was one of many students who wanted to prevent another school shooting from happening again.

“Parkland caused something in me to feel that this needed to be different,” she said. “I needed to do something bigger to make a change in my community.”

Goradia said that fear had become normal among her friends. From bomb threats to numerous lockdowns, there was always a level of uneasiness in the back of her mind.

“Sometimes, I feel nervous or scared in school,” Goradia said. “That fear has become a normal feeling in the back of my mind. Relegated to the same space as dread for an upcoming test.”

Fueled by what happened in Parkland, Goradia became impassioned to mobilize her fellow students at Century High School. It started with creating social media platforms, connecting with other students in Rochester, talking to adults and the city to lift the March for Our Lives movement off the ground. The planning all happened after the Washington, D.C., march was announced.

“Now, we are going to see a change because we finally have the country’s attention,” Goradia said. “Students have more power than ever before because people are finally willing to listen to us. We are no longer whining teenagers. … We have the power to decide what happens and who makes those decisions. We are the next generation of voters.”

The movement wasn’t without its critics, both students and adults.

Goradia said their efforts were sometimes labeled as “anti-gun,” and some made dismissive comments about students feeling unsafe in school. Encountering that opposition strengthened the students’ will to keep pushing for changes, Goradia said.

“We are trying to prove them wrong by actually making an effective change to show that we are capable of changing the rules,” she said. “We are making changes because the adults we trusted to do so have failed us.

“Finally, we realized that we should not have to feel scared in school. Once we understood this, we decided that something had to change. … The students of Rochester finally feel that we have a voice and people will listen to it.”

Name: Ethan Eggler

Age: 16

Grade: Sophomore

School: John Marshall High School

Eggler remembered being picked up from school on Dec. 14, 2012, and recalled the sadness that fell over him. That was the day he heard that 20 students, ages 6 and 7, and six adult staff members had been killed in a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

It would not be the only school shooting to affect him.

On March 14, Eggler joined dozens of other John Marshall students and walked out of school as part of a national event. The students spent 17 minutes (one for every life lost in the Parkland shootings) outside the school.

He was one of the students to speak during the walkout.

“Ever since Sandy Hook, I’ve been aware of these things happening,” he said. “It could’ve been my friends. Me. It really struck a tone. … It could have been Century. It could have been John Marshall. It could have been Mayo. It’s a national issue, not just a Florida issue.”

Since the walkouts, Eggler has researched the issue of school safety and welcomes constructive conversations with those whose opinions differ from his own.

“We need compromise, and I personally can understand both sides,” he said. “I want to bridge that gap.”

He said that at the end of the day, students are just afraid for their lives. They want adults to hear them, and make changes to help protect them, and help them feel safe going to school.

“I think, especially with this issue, it shouldn’t be about red or blue; progressive or conservative. It’s a human issue. A bullet in the classroom will take your life. No matter your political affiliation, no matter your association. It’s gonna kill you, either way.”

Name: Foney Marcellino

Age: 17

Grade: Junior

School: Mayo High School

Before Parkland, Foney Marcellino wasn’t too vocal about her thoughts. But after seeing how Parkland’s students mobilized to become activists for themselves, Marcellino found her inner voice.

“Before Parkland, I let others fight my battles, so to speak, instead of standing up for what I believe in,” she said. “I let others do it for me, and cheered them on. Now, I’m taking a stand and being proactive.”

“I find (the increase in threats against schools) slightly discouraging, because these threats mean that people capable of doing harm are feeling emboldened and empowered by the actions of other shooters,” Marcellino said. “It just feels as though I’m climbing an uphill battle.”

Yet, this didn’t deter Marcellino. She plans to run for student government and attend school board meetings as a representative.

“Adults usually think that us ‘kids’ don’t know or care about anything, but in reality we see what’s happening, and we’re done letting the adults figure it out,” Marellino said. “I see that we all have the potential to enact change, and I can’t stand by while so many people my age are dying.”

The Parkland shooting had a different impact on students, she said. It offered an outlet for their frustrations and anger.

It was only a matter of time, Marcellino said.

“I think the anger has always been there,” she said. “I realized how these kids are just like me. A lot of kids I know get nervous when they hear loud, sudden noises, and sometimes we talk about how vulnerable we feel. … I think we have always had power, but that we just haven’t used it as best we could.”