West High School organized the Student Voice-Out, a watered-down version of the National School Walkout in which students were given the choice to participate in multiple activities that allowed for their voices to be heard within the community on March 14. In suit with the nationwide movement, West High Administration also advised students they did not have to participate in the Voice-Out and could continue the day business as usual.
Exactly one month ago, on Feb. 14, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took place in Parkland, Fla. A 19-year-old gunman entered five different classrooms, opening fire on students using a semi-automatic AR-15. Killing 17 students and faculty members, while injuring 16 others, the heinous crime caused the controversy around gun legislation to plunge back into limelight. As a way to remember the individuals killed that Valentine’s Day, Women’s March Youth EMPOWER called for a National Student Walkout Day for students looking to protest gun legislation in America.
On Friday, March 9, West High Administration sent out email correspondence to students and parents of the West High community regarding the school’s planned activities for March 14. Outlined in the email, West High Administration “expressed interest in creating a safe and purposeful event,” hence creating “designated areas for activities to take place.”
Therefore, instead of a school walkout, West High Administration created the Student Voice-Out, intended to contain a variety of methods for students to voice themselves. With activities spread out across campus, students were able to write letters to government officials, create colorful and detailed posters, give and listen to speeches in two dedicated speech zones, and participate in a prayer group for a warm and welcoming way for students to come together.
Instead of having a 17-minute moment of silence, West High School had a one-minute moment of silence prior to students attending their selection of Student Voice-Out activities.
A Crowded Band Shell
Gathered around the center steps of the West High Band Shell located by building eight, a crowd of students and faculty listened in on one-minute speeches given by students. With a diverse group of speakers who either prepared a message or got up to the mic and freely spoke their minds, supportive clapping and positivity from the crowd followed each speech.
“I’m not much of a public speaker myself, but I wanted to hear those who were courageous enough to speak out about the tragedy,” senior Nick Snyder said. “It was good to hear that my fellow classmates, the majority of them at least, agreed with me that change must come.”
Speeches ranged from students speaking up about possible solutions for gun control to emphasizing the nuances of the gun debate as an issue.
“I was interested in what my fellow high school [students] thought about the extremely pressing and relevant issue of gun control,” junior Jeff Grundy said.
However, in what he described as a “split-second decision” Grundy walked up to the mic and gave a speech because “I wanted to make a difference that I can look back at and be proud of.”
In lieu of the many views that were presented at the band shell, Snyder ended on a positive note.
“The activities were effective because they opened up the floor to students to support those in the tragedy, however they chose. No one forced a student to do anything, and it was made clear that West High supported students in the demonstration,” Snyder said.
A Myriad of Posters By the Library
Right in front of the West High library, students made large posters out of support for the Parkland victims. With heartfelt messages or politically charged slogans, students grouped up with friends while faculty put on classic songs like Imagine by John Lennon.
There was also a section for students to “blow bubbles and recite positive affirmations,” as described by senior Barbara Lopez. Students could be seen smiling and enjoying their time while getting busy with big markers and large poster paper.
“Something that stood out to me was the smiles on people’s faces,” Lopez said. “Seeing everyone come together and enjoy each other’s company—regardless of political stance or opinion—is a beautiful sight.”
Lopez also touched on the gun debate and her feelings about graduating this year.
“As a senior, I honestly feel a bit sad leaving [high school] in light of recent issues. It breaks my heart to know someone would want to harm those around me,” she said. “I hope that everyone, including teachers, administration, and other staff, have the opportunity to grow without having such an impending fear of being harmed.”
All Eyes on Building Three
Similar to the band shell, students and faculty members were gathered in front of Building Three to listen to speeches given by students on the second floor. Some speeches dived into the minutiae behind guns, talking about semi-automatic and automatic weapons, while other speeches left students with a message of solidarity and unity.
Some teachers even went up to the mic, mentioning how they are concerned parents themselves and are looking for students to feel safe on their campus.
“Hearing [some teachers] speak on being mothers and even owning guns but still wanting nothing but us to be safe really showed us as students that we are cared for,” senior Jasmine Campos said. “I was very comforted and excited by the movement and the activities laid out because, for once, the students got a voice instead of being drowned out.”
Campos, who also gave a speech herself, said she spoke out because she loves advocating for what she believes in.
She also mentioned how she wanted to thank faculty on campus for their efforts to make her and her peers feel safe during the time of the Parkland shooting and on her own campus.
Within two weeks of the Parkland shooting incident, on Monday, Feb. 26, West High School had a threat of its own. In one of the female school bathrooms, a bathroom stall was vandalized with a threatening message. In big blue marker the vandalism warned students that “sometime this week, something will happen at West High School.”
With some brushing off the vandalism and others feeling tense, the threat turned out to be a hoax. Student Voice-Out Day offered closure for students who felt their voice was left unheard in wake of the Parkland incident, as well as the vandalism on the West High campus.
Kristin Urabe, who listened in on speeches by building three, “was there to be supportive of those giving their opinions.” She was subsequently surprised when she saw her brother step up to the mic.
“I was surprised when I saw my brother speaking because I didn’t know how passionate he was about this subject.”
Urabe also touched on how West High Administration only let students participate in their version of the walkout, allowing for demonstration in a more controlled and sanctioned setting.
“When I found out that we were going to partake in a Voice-Out instead of a walkout, I was skeptical how students would react but I was pleasantly surprised by how effective this was,” Urabe said. “A Voice-Out allowed students & faculty to hear what we had to say instead of just walking out of school to protest.”
A Heartfelt Tribute Banner in Building Eight
Right next to the Band Shell in Building eight, students also made a tribute banner, containing the names and ages of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. Decorated with hearts, flowers, and messages like “Forever Remembered” the tribute banner depicted the West High Student Body’s ability to come together and show support.
“The tribute banner seemed the most sensible way to honor the Parkland victims without forcing a political agenda,” senior Ike Tamanaha said. “The most foremost concern in a tragic event is to show respect to those harmed or killed in the incident, rather than forcing one’s opinion or policy.”
While making the tribute banner, Tamanaha noted how one student “made a colorful outline of Florida with a message for peace on the side.”
The banner was later taped onto a wall in Building eight.
“The school made the right effort to be politically neutral,” Tamanaha said. “Allowing the walkout or prohibiting students from walking out without an alternative would have suggested a political stance. The Voice-Out ensured that students could sufficiently exercise their free speech and expression.”
With approximately 300 students participating in the event, West High took some time out of a regular school day to remember and pay tribute to the victims of the Parkland shooting. With hopes for government action, student demonstration across the country, not just at West High, looks to catalyze reform in current gun legislation.