Wednesday’s student walkout at Wilton High School was one of thousands that took place across the country, one part of a larger, nationally-organized effort by a generation of students to make a statement about gun violence and school safety. But the Wilton walkout was also its own, uniquely purposed event. What the student leaders who organized it maintain is that the walkout was not just a memorial for those slain in the Parkland, FL school shooting, but it was also a way to promote more compassion right here at home in Wilton.
In his remarks at the event, senior and WHS student body president Cameron Berg said that no matter what political belief a person may hold, what was most important was ensuring the community be a compassionate one.
“We must also try much harder, both locally and nationally, to exercise an empathy that is not limited by political, ideological or social differences. The enemy of violence is compassion. In this moment, we can’t immediately change laws surrounding safety in school, though many students here are valiantly, tirelessly, working to effect these changes. We could, however, in this moment, today, choose to make Wilton High School a more caring, kind and compassionate community,” he said.
He echoed those comments after the event, telling GOOD Morning Wilton that the concept of encouraging more compassion is something that transcends politics, and which everyone can support.
“We don’t need to pick between what the left says about guns and what the right says about mental health. We don’t need to pick between compassion and safety. These things are not only not mutually exclusive, but they go together–one won’t work without the other,” Berg said.
Fellow WHS senior and event organizer Emily Kesselman said the theme was simple.
“We can be compassionate every day. Not just today, not just for 17 minutes. For 17 minutes we can mourn, we can reflect, we can think about what we want to do as a community, as a student body. But every other 17-minute block in the day you can be compassionate, you can reach out to somebody.”
Over the last few weeks, WHS student organizers worked with school administrators to make sure that the program would avoid any partisanship or political stance. School officials called it a “…ceremony, designed to foster empathy for victims of school violence and vigilance for safety in our schools.” Students were at liberty to define for themselves the meaning of their own individual participation, but the purpose of the collective event was one of solemn memorializing for the victims of the Parkland, FL school shooting and an overarching support of efforts to make schools safe from gun violence.
The logistics and the program were planned by the students. Simple and beautiful, the 17 minute walkout featured 17 students, each one reading his or her own bio, and then announcing the name of one of the victims, adding some brief, biographical information about each one. The point, said organizers, was to reinforce that the people killed in the shooting were just like students and teachers in the WHS community.
“It wasn’t about us–it was the contrast between that community and this one, it’s every kid. It’s not even about 14 kids in Parkland, or 20 kids in Sandy Hook. It’s about every kid in America and every adult, anybody who walks into a school, who walks anywhere. That we deserve to be safe,” Kesselman said, after the event.
Berg agreed, saying, “It’s kind of a paradox, but we read our own bios because it’s not about us. Because it is about a place where community can still exist, versus a place where community has been destroyed.”
There also was an extended moment of silence and students who chose to attend were respectful and contemplative.
“People took it seriously, if you ask high school students to sit there quietly for 17 minutes in the cold, it doesn’t always go so well. But they quieted down, and the looks on their faces really reflected the somber feel that we wanted to have,” Kesselman said.
Middlebrook Middle School also held a walkout, but given the more sensitive nature of the topic for younger students, GOOD Morning Wilton did not ask to report on events live at the school. However, Middlebrook principal Lauren Feltz sent a message to parents after the event that described how the walkout was handled at that school.
Today 640 Middlebrook students demonstrated just how mature and respectful middle schoolers can be. Other than a welcome extended by one student leader, Hayley Sayewitz, the group maintained silence and attention as they gathered in the cold having walked out to honor those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As Haylie put it,
“But we would like you to know that we are not just staying silent for Parkland. We are staying silent for everyone who’s ever died in an event like this, and, unfortunately, every victim to come. Because no matter what your reason for walking out was, I think we can all agree that we are united against mass shootings. So now, please join us in honoring the fallen with these moments of silence.”
It was appropriate that we had no visitors with us at that time but I wanted to share with you what a beautiful job your children did in an unfamiliar situation. It made me very proud to be part of the Middlebrook family.