I was twelve years old when the Sandy Hook shooting happened.
I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the living room TV.
And I felt like I couldn’t be farther away
From those children and their panic and fear,
Their grieving parents and their loss,
From the gunfire and the bloodshed of that horrible day.
I felt like there were so many differences that kept me safe from that sort of tragedy,
Like there would be no more of that sort of tragedy,
Like there was somebody bigger than me who would sort it all out
Because I thought this was just another one of those things that would get sorted out.
And I was sixteen when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened.
I saw the videos of bloodied people being carried out by panicked friends,
Heard the description of a callous, calculated attack,
Of an unrelenting violence.
And I felt shock,
Felt disgust and confusion,
Felt such a numbing distance
Because it was an awful thing,
A tragedy that was painted in vile shades of intolerance,
An act of terrorism
Born out of such a rare type of hatred
That could never touch me.
It was the sort of thing
That only ever happened once,
And only ever happened far away.
But I was seventeen when the Parkland shooting happened,
And suddenly the bullets were flying so much closer to home
Because Parkland is just over two hours away from my own school,
And those victims look a lot more like me than they ever have before.
And on that sunny Valentine's day afternoon,
My sister and I read each name and bio aloud,
And we were pierced by the echoes of strangers’ grief,
The quotes that trailed off,
The brevity of each paragraph.
I thought to myself
This is all I might ever know of any of these people’s lives:
Luke Hoyer, who was 15
And had a contagious laugh;
Jaime Guttenberg, who was 14
And loved to dance;
Peter Wang, who was 15
And died holding the door open for his fellow classmates.
Scott Beigel, who was 35 and a hero to his students
Martin Duque Anguiano, who was 14 and loved by all his family
Aaron Feis, who was 37 and died using his body as a shield
Nicholas Dworet, who was 17
Alyssa Alhadeff, who was 14
Chris Hixon, who was 49
Cara Loughran, who was 14
Joaquin Oliver, who was 17
Gina Montalto, who was 14
Alaina Petty, 14
Meadow Pollock, 18
Helena Ramsay, 17
Alex Schachter, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16
And suddenly it wasn’t enough to just read their bios.
To wait for the action of apathetic strangers
Who call themselves leaders.
And on February 21st, just one week after the Parkland shooting
I walked out of my high school with thirty of my classmates,
With the threat of suspension hanging over our heads,
And the queasy nervousness of newfound bravery shining in our eyes.
And we spoke to each other
In anger and sadness and fear.
We held signs made only the night before
That asked questions that nobody seemed ready to answer,
Questions like “How Many Must Die?”
And “Am I Next?”
And we chanted the names and the ages of each of the seventeen victims,
And I led that chant, and I got a few names wrong,
And my voice cracked,
And I was choked up,
And I cried,
But for the first time in my life, I felt the power of my voice.
Felt the impact that I could have on people
Because I wasn’t the only one crying that day.
And just one month later I spoke at our local March for Our Lives
To a crowd of over a thousand people,
My voice tumbling out the mouth of a bullhorn.
And I forgot how to breathe,
Took gasping breaths between each stanza,
Tried to be still as my whole body trembled,
I needed help holding my speech.
I put all the power I have into my words,
felt them crack under the weight of it.
I was too high pitched
And I did not take enough pauses,
Did not take enough time to relax into
The hot and cold passionate panic in my chest.
But I made people cry,
Moved them to tears with my fragile words
And I made them cheer
“You go girl!”
And “Enough is enough!”
And “Vote them out!”
I moved a crowd of people
With my voice and my words
And the strength of my convictions,
And I still feel the reverberations of that moment,
still hear the echo of their cheers today.
And I am eighteen now,
And nobody has solved the problem yet.
Politicians still bow before the golden altar of campaign donations,
Schools still aren't safe,
And guns are still in the hands of dangerous people.
But on November 6th I used my voice again
To cast my vote
For changes in legislation,
For a change in attitude,
For leaders who will build a country in which
So many voices
Are not needlessly silenced.