Students plan and participate in walkout

About 270 BSM students involved themselves in the national walkout to protest gun violence, advocate for school safety, and remember all of the school shooting victims.

A huge part of the walkout was remembering the students who were lost in the Parkland shooting. Sophomore Julia Hoover prays and grieves the Florida victims.

In wake of the tragic shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students in all grades came together to participate in a 17-minute walkout in order to pay respect to the victims of school shootings and to advocate for school safety.

The walkout, led by a large committee of students, took place on March 14. Students were encouraged by the committee to leave class at 10 am and stand outside the main entryway of the school for 17 minutes of reflection and advocacy. An estimated 270 students attended the walkout, many wearing orange clothing and ribbons in support of National School Walkout Day.

During the walkout, there were multiple ways for students to get involved. While some students spent the time in prayer, senior and walkout organizer Ben Larson spent his time calling his local representatives and encouraging others to do the same. “We’re just simply helping the process and helping everyone find who their representatives are, phone numbers, and encouraging people to reach out to people who can really make the change that we need,” Larson said.

We’re just simply helping the process and…encouraging people to reach out to people who can really make the change that we need.

— Senior Ben Larson

Likewise, junior Annie Pohlen, another walkout organizer, was busy rallying students to sign up for Students Demand Action, a branch of the parent organization Moms Demand Action based in the West Metro. Pohlen explained that the goal of the organization is to allow students to voice their concerns about gun violence through means of government action.

Students over 18 were also encouraged to register to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. “At its core, this event is about standing in solidarity with the victims of the tragedy in Parkland and standing with the message of the survivors. We want to encourage our students to vote and participate in local government, so they can exercise their vote to promote whatever change they see fit,” Pohlen said.

Senior Sophie Herrmann, one of the chief contributors in setting the walkout into motion, addressed the crowd with a heartfelt speech. “The goal is to get students engaged in this issue and give students a voice in an area that affects them really deeply,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann, who Pohlen credits as being “in charge” of the event, says school safety is a big issue for students, though she also knows opinions differ on what exactly to do about it. “I think we were very intentional about making this whatever [participants] want it to be,” Herrmann said.

Each walkout participant had a different reason for attending. For some, it was to honor the Parkland victims; for others, it was for more political causes.

For junior Nathan Parece, his curiosity motivated him to attend. “I have got to be honest…I wanted to see what it would be like. I wanted to see what other people would be saying about this whole thing,” Parece said.

Other students, like senior Alyssa Brinza, attended to stand up for personal safety. “America and students are tired of having to hear every week on the news that kids are dying because a lot of us think that this could be us next,” Brinza said.

Junior Grace Bacon says it was the alarmingly high number of school shootings the United States has seen that led her to participate in the walkout. “I’m here because I don’t want any other family to be victimized the way these families have been through Sandy Hook, through Florida, through anything. It’s not something that needs to happen, and we’re finally in a position of power to change that. So I’m here to start that change because now I finally have a small platform….to do that,” Bacon said.

So I’m here to start that change because now I finally have a small platform….to do that.

— Junior Grace Bacon

For junior Kayla Grendahl, however, her reason for participating came from a place of sympathy. She often feels affected in the wake of mass school shootings, especially the Parkland Shooting. “I’ll be sitting in class and I’ll just think about how…it is not that far off for it to happen to us. I’m definitely a lot more scared than I was before,” Grendahl said.

While Grendahl may feel on edge following the tragic events that occurred nearly a month ago in Florida, senior and fellow participant Mikey Pupel says he has no reason to feel unsafe at school. “I feel like nothing has really hit kind of close to home with me. I know that I’m lucky to have a community like [BSM] where I can feel safe in my academics. I feel like [news of school shootings] hasn’t really affected me as a student because I don’t really worry about it every day at school like other schools might because I know our community is a safe one. It affects me more as like, ‘Wow, the world is a messed up place where this is happening and nothing is happening to prevent it.’ That’s a problem that we have,” Pupel said.

Not only did senior high students attend, but junior high students attended as well. Seventh grader Elliot Huether says he was impressed with the work the committee did. “I like how it was student organized; there weren’t any teachers involved in it,” Huether said.

The committee was more than happy with the turnout for the walkout. The estimated 250 students walked out, included 50 from the junior high.  “I’m thrilled [with the turnout]…we have junior high kids out here, which is awesome,” Herrmann said.

Junior Amanda Cassidy was equally as impressed. “We had a lot of people turn out, which was really impressive just knowing our school’s situation,” Cassidy said.

While 250 students did attend, various factors stopped other students from participating. For some, it was tests; others, their parents prohibited them. And for some, their personal beliefs did not align with the fundamentals of the walkout. For junior Annabelle Hilson, she did not feel strongly enough about the cause to participate. “Since I wasn’t super passionate about [the issue] and having a debate…I probably shouldn’t do [the Walkout],” Hilson said.

Whatever the case, the decision to walkout or to stay in was a personal one. Junior participant Sydney Johnson was especially sympathetic toward those who chose not to walk out. “This is what I believe. I don’t think they don’t respect human life at all; I just think they believe what they believe,” Johnson said.