Tears were shed. Bells tolled. Candles were lit. Names were read.
Across the nation on Wednesday morning, young people walked out of their classes in a powerful, 17-minute show of support and remembrance of the 17 people — including 14 students — who were killed Feb. 14 by a single shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Many schools in the Finger Lakes joined in with various forms of services that were just as emotional and as respectful as others around America.
At Penn Yan Academy, students were free to participate in a supervised walkout, but that wasn’t good enough for Kaitlynne Zeno, a senior.
“People just walking outside and standing outside — that’s not making an impact,” Zeno said. “Doing a ceremony has more of a meaning and says ‘Look, this is serious and something needs to be done.’”
Zeno was among the organizers of a student-led ceremony in the PYA gym. Fourteen students and three staff members read the name of each victim and placed a flower on a table.
The school bell rang once for each slain person. Following the ceremony, there was one minute of silence and the PYA chorus sang a specially selected song.
“We have a tradition to ring that bell when success happens, such as winning a sports championship,” Principal Dave Pullen said. “Today, it was a memory bell or a healing bell.”
At Geneva High, physical education teacher Lauren Natti was moved to tears.
“I have been here over 10 years and I have never seen the students be more respectful and quiet,” she said. “It is amazing … and brought tears to me eyes seeing how serious they were. It makes me very proud of them.”
The Finger Lakes Times dispatched reporters and photographers to various schools around the area, and here are their reports.
Mynderse Academy and Seneca Falls Middle School students, as well as some school staff and local police officers, gathered at 10 a.m. in the school auditorium.
Just prior to the event, Seneca Falls Superintendent Bob McKeveny said it was the district’s intention to let the students stage the event they wanted to.
“We’re not here to smother or hover,” he said.
Police cars did block off all entrances to the school building.
Student leaders Jess Dougherty, Margaux Eller and Louis Smith spoke briefly to their peers, urging them to reach out to others, promote school unity and respect everyone — including even those who chose not participate.
“March 14 will not be the end but the beginning of a movement at Mynderse Academy,” Eller said.
The students showed a video honoring the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting. Pictures and short descriptions of each person killed or injured scrolled down the screen, accompanied by background sounds of 911 calls and police communications.
The auditorium was eerily silent, unusual when it is three-quarters filled with students.
When the video ended, the group (including some teachers) stood up and exited the rear door to the track outside — where they took a silent lap, footsteps crunching on the freshly fallen snow. Several students held hands or locked arms.
Their lap completed, the students filed back into the auditorium and returned to their classes.
Paul H. Gaston, a junior, called the Florida shooting a “breaking point” following other school shootings.
“There’s been a lot of talk about gun control, about how to make our school safer. Do teachers have guns? Do we bring in more [police] officers?” he asked. “Our students put something together that made a statement rather than students just walking out. That wouldn’t make any difference. This ceremony remembers the lives of real people, not just numbers or statistics. Real people who lived, who loved, who thought.”
Teacher and student advisor Melissa Armsden said while she and Pullen gave the students a little input on what would be appropriate, the students made the final call on the ceremony.
“They just ran with it. Everything that happened today is student driven and they had some fantastic ideas on how we can honor the victims,” she said. “I am extremely proud as their advisor and a teacher in this building.”
Zeno, fellow student Ryan Smith and Pullen made comments at the ceremony.
“If you came down to the gym today expecting answers, you will find none. Even from a spiritual standpoint, I can’t tell you why (the shooting) happened,” Smith said. “This isn’t the time for political discussions, it is a day of reflection. Twenty-two days have passed since the Parkland shooting. The media has left and the flowers have wilted. What remains? The memories of those 17 people, those 17 souls and the horrible acts to which they fell victim to.”
Pullen urged students to show concern and care for fellow students who may be struggling.
“If you see something, say something. If you see something that concerns you or someone hurting or harming another person, reach out to your counselor,” he said.
“Better yet, reach out to the individual and help them. Take a risk and sit with someone new or alone at a lunch table. Offer to help the student that may be struggling with their homework. A few words, that take a few moments, can make someone feel extraordinary for a lifetime. I challenge all of you to just be kind to everyone, every day.”
The two main organizers of the walkout were juniors Kate Equinozzi and Morgan Wright. They said they have been involved in feminism related issues together and felt inspired to get involved in this effort because it’s important that students feel safe not only now but in the future.
As the clock approached 10 a.m., Equinozzi went on the intercom to announce the start of what would be a very civil silent march along a hallway known as “student street” to the GMS auditorium. Seventeen individual signs listing the names of each person who died at Stoneman Douglas were randomly handed out.
A moment of silence was held in the auditorium, and then the two organizers called the sign holders up on stage and the victims’ names were read aloud.
Though a large police presence was on site, officers ended up being just interested observers.
Several hundred students attended along with staff members and administrators. All were offered the opportunity to sign Post-it notes and a large banner with the word #ENOUGH on it. Both are going to be sent to Parkland.
Principal Greg Baker said that he was “quite frankly really excited and proud of the two organizers. The event was completely student run with just a little advice and guidance from adults.”
He added: “I think students are at a point that they are really sick of all the gun violence in the schools and organized this in the right way.”
Geneva High student Love Johnson expressed her sympathies for the victims’ families while adding that recently she has had her own connection to the gun violence that is routinely occurring in the country; she said four people she knows have lost their lives in such a way in the last few months.
The event lasted about 30 minutes after which the students exited the auditorium with the same thoughtfulness and serious attitude that they had while entering.
The 17 chairs laid out in front of Newark High School said it all.
With blowing snow pelting participants of Newark’s walkout, student organizers Isabelle Figueroa, Emma Perrone and Alexandra Briggs solemnly read the names of the 17 student and staff members killed in the shootings.
Student Jack Comella was another of the student organizers at Newark but did not take part in the reading of the names.
Fugueroa and Briggs, both freshmen, and Perrone, a junior, took turns reading the names of the victims in front of the high school, where well over 150 students and staff — including Principal Thomas Roote and Superintendent Matt Cook — attended.
The students not only read the names of the victims but told a bit about their interests and their now-quashed dreams because of the actions of a gunman.
There was no talk about gun control or other measures that some say could help reduce the number of mass shootings.
It was all about the people lost on that day.
And while there were apparently districts in some regions where students were discouraged from walking out of class to express protest — with some facing punishment if they did so — that was not the case in Newark.
Cook said their only concern was to ensure students were safe — Newark police were on hand to watch over the walkout — and that their walkout was not disruptive.
While it provided a moment of reflection of those whose lives were lost, said Cook, the Newark event also was embraced as a great lesson in civics.
“As educators, we have an obligation to frame the conversation with them,” Cook said. “Civil rights and peaceful protests have a long history (in our nation).”
After the 17-minute protest was over, students were encouraged to head to the gymnasium for more reflection by Roote until the start of the next class.
Cook lauded the work of the students, noting that the district merely provided some of the logistical support necessary, including an audio system. He said his Newark students were no doubt inspired by the efforts of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who have ushered in a national conversation about guns and school safety. They led the charge for gun law changes in their state as well.
“Those kids in Florida have been amazing,” he said.
Phelps-Clifton Springs School Superintendent Matt Sickles said about 100 students in grades 7 to 12 participated in the 17-minute walkout Wednesday.
The students, who received permission from parents, walked out at 10 a.m. They gathered in a courtyard area at the north end of the school, rather than the football field, as originally planned. The inclement weather was cited as the reason.
Sickles said 17 students held a sign with the name and age of a student from Florida killed by the shooter. Every minute, a student holding a sign read the name and age of the victim.
“It went very well,” Sickles said.
The Finger Lakes Times was not allowed to photograph the event or talk to students.
“If we had advance notice, maybe we could have coordinated something,” Sickles said, “but without that, it was decided that for safety and the desire to let the kids have their remembrance, we kept it private.”