LIVINGSTON, NJ — In order to make their voices heard and prove that “age is no obstacle to activism,” hundreds of Livingston High School (LHS) students participated in the student-led National School Walkout on Wednesday morning. For 17 minutes, the students gathered on the blacktop near the turf to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting and to also take a stance on gun control, violence and awareness.
Organizers and LHS seniors Sasha Weber, Richard Kim and Rachel Mintz have worked closely with the Livingston Public Schools administration, the Livingston Township Council, the Livingston Police Department and a larger group of students since winter break to put the event together. They extended their thanks to the entire administrative staff and the council for supporting this endeavor, as well as the police department for blocking off the Oval, having an ambulance on standby and surrounding the school with officers to ensure student safety during the protest.
As their peers flooded out of the building, the organizers emphasized the power they have to shape the world they want to live in, and their ability to make a difference “at a time in history where [their] voices are so important to creating change.”
“One thing that we really tried to stress is that we’ll support whatever you’re walking out for,” said Weber. “You may decide just to walk out for the Parkland victims, you may be walking out for gun control or gun violence, and we want people to know that you can walk out for whatever you choose to and we will support you. You can exercise your right to peacefully protest, or you can respect your right to just stay in school—either way, you’ll face no consequences and we just want for students to be able to share their voices and take a stand in whatever way is meaningful for them.”
Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner said the district decided very early that this endeavor was something that it needed to support. She said that the district recognizes that regardless of where people stand on this issue, the importance of keeping the students and teachers safe when they’re in school is paramount.
“The student-led demonstration/walkout was well-thought-out and I’m so proud of the kids,” said Steffner. “They did an amazing job really trying to make meaning, but more than that, I think they’re trying to really make sure that this is not a one-shot deal. So they’re talking about letter-writing and registering to vote—all of those kinds of things that will truly make a difference if we’re able to change what’s going on.”
Steffner added that she “couldn’t be more proud” of not only the students, but also the administrative team for working with the students, helping them to process it and allowing them to “be the leaders of this and take ownership of it.”
“You have to respect [the students’] civil activism and their engagement in it,” said LHS Principal Mark Stern, who applauded the students’ collaboration and cooperation. “This is something that, if it’s a movement and if there’s opportunity for education in this, we have to make sure that we’re doing some follow-through debriefing, some conversation on what activism is and what it means to be an advocate and be involved in something like this. We feel a responsibility to the kids to make sure that we’re having follow-up conversations and then if the students want to continually, productively create change, we’re going to support them in that.”
Following the event, Stern said that all students were all invited to join in a debriefing in the LHS cafeteria during their lunch period.
He added that the event would not have been possible without the support of not only the board of education, which agreed that participating students would not be penalized with a cut or absence from class, but also the police officers and council members who involved themselves in the student-led conversation.
“This was a very emotionally well-run, organized event and I’m so happy that the council and I were here to watch,” said Mayor Ed Meinhardt. “I applaud all of the high school students who were involved with organizing it and I also applaud all of the students who took part in remembering the 17 lives that were taken during the tragic event. This was certainly a sad time in the United States history and we need to do all that we can to prevent these shootings from ever happening again.”
During the event, the LHS a cappella group Notations performed a song from the musical “Ragtime,” which tells a story about the fight for racial equality and the rights that every American deserves. The lyrics of the song, entitled “Make Them Hear You,” demand that all voices be heard in the effort to create change toward a better country.
“Proclaim it from your pulpit, in your classroom with your pen, teach every child to raise his voice and then, my brothers, then will justice be demanded by ten-million righteous men,” the song proclaims. “Make them hear you.”
LHS students Ben Asher and Mary Yang then recited the poems “America’s Finest Crop” and “You, If No One Else” before the crowd became silent to remember the 17 Parkland victims, whose names were read aloud.
Many participating students held signs that read “thoughts and prayers don’t save lives,” “enough is enough,” “stop the violence” and more as they led chants of “Go Away NRA,” “Guns Aren’t Fun” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Gun Violence has Got to Go” until it was time to head back to class.