First about 20 students gathered outside Watertown High School, then the number doubled and soon people were pouring out of the front door until hundreds of students filled the area in front of the school as part of the National Walk Out calling for safer campuses and gun control in the wake of the shootings in Parkland, Fla.
The walk out had been scheduled for last March 14, to coincide with rallies across the nation, but a nor’easter put those plans on ice for a week. The event was organized by students and they were not required to come out for the Walk Out.
A few hundred students left school for the 17 minute event. They were joined by about a dozen members of Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment, who stood across the street from the school.
Along with the speeches, the students read out the names of the 17 students, teachers and staff who were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and placed a candle on a table for each. They then observed a minute of silence for the victims.
Junior Seren Theriault said that students from Watertown joined those from other schools demanding that Congress pay attention and make a difference in their community. She read from a statement drafted by the students who organized the WHS Walk Out.
“The lack of stricter gun regulation is putting our lives at risk,” Theriault said, reading part of the statement. “This Walk Out is not a protest against our school but yet against a government that has failed us.”
Looking out at the all the students who came out for the Walk Out moved Theriault.
“This is the type of thing that makes me truly proud of my community, what makes me proud to say I go to Watertown High,” Theriault said. “To see all of you out here be passionate about something like this, be so caring and compassionate and to care about making sure our schools are safe makes me amazed and so makes me feel so lucky to be here.”
Sophomore Alyssa Carroll said she believes that more needs to be done than “sending thoughts and prayers.”
“Think about your friends and family living in neighboring towns maybe a neighboring state,” Carroll said. “Imagine if you turn on the news and saw that there was a school shooting or any other kind of shooting in the town where they live. How would you feel? Would you just send your thoughts or prayers? Probably not.”
Carroll also expressed skepticism about President Donald Trump’s proposal to give guns to teachers to try to prevent future school shootings.
“This would make me even more afraid to go to school,” Carroll said. “No offense to any of the teachers out here, but some teachers are kind of crazy, and with a handgun they are capable of doing anything.”
Senior Jeremy Ornstein encouraged students moved by the Parkland shooting, or energized by the Walk Out to continue being involved.
“I know why I’m walking out. I believe we need laws to end gun violence. I believe we do need legal solutions,” Ornstein said. “Do not let my voice force and define your voice. I am the one here yelling but your heart and your mind is just as strong, just as urgent, and just as important as mine.”
He encouraged anyone with an idea to stop school violence to share it.
“If you have an idea or passion or belief and if you are a liberal or you are a conservative, make your idea be heard,” Ornstein said. “No one side will make these schools safe, we need every voice.”
The group behind the Walk Out will organize voter registration drives at WHS, and he encouraged students to stay involved through events such as the March to End Gun Violence in Boston on Saturday
“Today, Watertown, let’s mourn quietly and tomorrow let’s keep our voices loud,” Ornstein said. “Parkland, I’m so sorry.”
Most of the WHS organizers will be attending the Boston March, but one, senior Evan Aldridge, will be going to to the march in Washington, D.C., with his father.
“(I am going there) because it is part of history and this is the most momentum this movement for gun control has ever had,” Aldridge said. “It’s good to go right to whee it matters, right to DC. It’s good to get as many people, as many numbers, that we can say this many people want this.”