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Student-led walkout advocates for gun control

Highlander Time 8 walkout on football field attracts media coverage, large number of students

Students+carry+signs+against+gun+violence+at+the+student-led+walkout+on+March+1.+During+Highlander+Time+8%2C+students+gathered+on+the+football+field+to+speak+out.
Students carry signs against gun violence at the student-led walkout on March 1. During Highlander Time 8, students gathered on the football field to speak out.

Students carry signs against gun violence at the student-led walkout on March 1. During Highlander Time 8, students gathered on the football field to speak out.

Students carry signs against gun violence at the student-led walkout on March 1. During Highlander Time 8, students gathered on the football field to speak out.

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As the bell rang, more and more students picked up their backpacks and left the school in an act of protest. Hundreds of students gathered on the football field, holding signs and rallying in favor of gun control after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, two weeks ago.

While the student turnout was robust, organizers of the walkout were fearful that students would not show up after difficulties in trying to bring a guest speaker to the school.

“The issues that we had with the speakers and getting everything approved, we were kind of disheartened and were very worried that people would not be exhibiting the same support,” junior Asia Kurtalic said. “It was really uplifting to see that people still showed up because they believed in the message.”

The walkout continued with a reading of letters from a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, a mother of a victim of the Newtown shooting in 2012 and from congressman Don Beyer, McLean’s local representative in Congress. The organizers believe these letters helped stir support for gun control among those who showed up.

“Many times after mass shootings,  the support is there for a week or two after it, but after that, it really dwindles down,” junior Nathaniel Wyerman said. “The amount of people that came out and supported our cause two weeks after the Parkland shooting happened, it shows that we’re not forgetting about it. We want this one to be the last mass shooting in U.S. history. We believe we can do it and McLean High School students are the face of change.”

The walkout also offered a chance for student speakers to address attendees. Junior Michelle Ugarte jumped at the chance to speak, having closely known people affected by gun violence.

I just saw the hurt on their faces, all the anger, and I had a flashback to last year when I had to go to a vigil for one of my friends who I knew in middle school who had been shot by his dad,” Ugarte said. “Something needs to happen. I can feel their pain when they talk about their children, I know what that’s like.”

Organizers hope to maintain momentum by planning another walkout on March 14, where they hope to gain a permit to gather at Lewinsville Park and bring the guest speakers they originally planned on bringing. School administrative rules require all guest speakers to be vetted before they come on campus, a process the organizers of the walkout did not follow.

“A speaker is going to come on campus. I can’t support that,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “That means that I’m asking you to listen to a speaker who I can’t control what the message is. I don’t know what that message is.”

While Reilly supports students being active in their community, she believes school is not necessarily the venue for spurring the legislative changes that students wish to pursue.

“Students know school and they want to do it in school, but they have to start learning how to do it outside of school and moving that forward outside of school because that’s where the legislation changes,” Reilly said. “How do you get that message to DC? How do you get that to your legislator? I think that needs to be the next thing, because walking out of your education, what message is that sending to people?”

Media helicopters from FOX 5 DC circled around the football field and news anchors from ABC 7 interviewed student participants in the walkout. Overall, organizers believe the walkout is simply the first step in energizing the student voices at McLean.

We’re the ones that are actually affected by the issue,” Kurtalic said. “If nobody is going to create change for us, it’s up to us to create it for ourselves.”

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