Thousands of students at campuses across Hawaii walked out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. today in solidarity with their peers nationwide who are staging 17-minute walkouts as a tribute to the 17 victims of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla.
At Kaiser High School, about 500 students filled the stadium’s bleachers at 10 a.m., dotting it with red and orange, colors supporting the movement, for a 17-minute walkout. They listened to speeches, observed a minute of silence, and then returned to class.
The walkout was organized by sophomore Teia O’Malley, who said the tragic event hit close to home because she is in high school. She was also inspired by a national movement lead by teens.
“I think because we’re so far away, geographically, that we feel distanced from everything, but I think this shows we are still a part of this and we need to get involved,” said O’Malley.
“However slow it may seem, change is happening,” O’Malley said during her speech. “The response to the shooting has been dominated by teenage voices. They are tired of older generations dismissing them, and now they’re making change happen. What I want from each of you is take a page out of their book, and speak out on something you’re passionate about. Educate yourself about the issue, and learn how you can get involved. Take a stand and do something. Young people have a history of changing the world. Now it’s our turn.”
Alex Teiti-Gierlach, a senior at Kaiser High School, said during her speech that she was turning 18 in June and that she was going to register to vote. She encouraged fellow high school seniors to do the same.
“Vote in every election,” said Teiti-Gierlach. “Vote for the people who will make the difference, for the people who actually care about us … We may be young, we may still be in high school, but our voices can be heard. We have the power to change the world.”
Principal Justin Mew said O’Malley approached him about organizing the event for the high school, which has about 1,100 students total. He said he supported it as a positive way to respond to the tragedy.
At Punahou School this morning, students chanted “No more silence, end the violence” in the school’s Academy Quad.
Punahou faculty and administrators were unsure what to expect from the student-led, 17-minute walkout that began at 10 a.m., but made it clear that no one would be disciplined for participating in a “peaceful protest,” said Principal Emily McCarren.
“Our job is helping them learn the power of their voice,” McCarren said moments before the walkout began.
The student organizers set up booths so students could register to vote. They hung posters with email addresses and phone numbers of Congressional leaders who receive the most donations from the powerful National Rifle Association and urged students to voice make their feelings to known.
Freshman Hana Murphy, 14, of Manoa, immediately called the office of U.S. Sen. John McCain and urged him to stop accepting NRA donations.
After several attempts, Murphy finally got through and told the person who answered: “We have our futures in front of us and we don’t want one bullet to ruin it.”
Murphy then told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “She said, ‘I’ll pass it (the message) along to him. Please have a nice day.’”
“We all know that’s not going to happen,” Murphy said. “I’m going to be annoying.”
It was the first time that Murphy has been inspired to call a lawmaker.
Claire Cutler, an 18-year-old, senior from Kailua, used a bullhorn to encourage more students to get involved.
Cutler was inspired to organize today’s Punahou walkout specifically because of the Parkland shooting.
“It shouldn’t still be happening,” she said.
Punahou has 3,750 students enrolled this year, including 1,700 in the high school. None of the younger children could be seen in the Academy Quad but several middle school students participated.
Hayden Brown, a 15-year-old sophomore from Kahala, got involved for the first time to help organize today’s walkout. Immediately after, Brown vowed to continue to get involved in social activism.
“We all need to make change,” she said.
At Ewa Makai Middle School, students gathered at 10 a.m. for what they called “a peace gathering” rather than a walkout. The cafeteria assembly, planned by the student government class, was attended voluntarily by nearly all of the Ewa school’s 900 or so students.
There were student speeches on kindness, empathy and compassion and a memorial to the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. Pictures of the victims were on display, surrounded by hearts and student-made ti leaf lei.
“We’re not promoting violence or riots or protest or anything like that. The whole idea for this was to bring awareness to the situation and give ways for us to show respect to the 17 whose lives were lost.” said student leader Reese Martin, 13, one of the event’s organizers.
“It was definitely a time of mourning, for sure,” said student McKenzie Fagin, remembering the Parkland shooting. “We kind of realized if we don’t take into consideration others, and how others are, then something like that could happen here. We definitely don’t want that.”
Honolulu Police Department officer Roland Pagan also offered the students a few brief words.
“I’m not here to talk to you about gun control,” he said. “I’m here to talk to you about personal control.”
The walls of the cafeteria were adorned with student posters about peace and remembrance, and a giant “Pono Tree” was festooned with individual leaves containing student suggestions on how they can be more kind, positive, empathetic, caring and forgiving.
“It’s not just about the school shooting,” student Thor Gante said afterward. “It’s about our ohana, our family. It’s not just individuals, it’s everyone.”
Hawaii schools with walkouts planned also included Mililani High, Moanalua High, Kapolei High, Campbell High, Le Jardin Academy, St. Andrew’s Schools, St. Francis School and University Laboratory School as well as schools on Maui and Hawaii island.
At Farrington, student body president Franchesca Amor Aguilar said, “We were actually devastated because these students were the same age as us.” Commenting on Tuesday as she prepared for the walkout, she added, “Knowing that it could happen to anybody, especially our own high school, we wanted to do something about it.”
The movement is popping up at schools large and small, public and private. Pulling it together are hashtags like #Enough and #NeverAgain, as social media reach across the miles and build common cause. Besides remembering the victims, the protests are calling for safer schools and tighter gun control laws.
The walkouts were voluntary, and students had to remain on campus in designated areas or risk unexcused absences. Administrators said they made the time and the space available to allow students to make their views known on a subject they are passionate about, and to give them a chance to educate each other.