PRINCETON, NJ - In front of about 5,000 people in attendance at the March for Our Lives Rally in Princeton on Saturday, East Brunswick Junior Vidhya Dhar delivered the following speech about the need for increased safety in America's public schools:

Hello everyone. Thank you all for coming. Even though we could not be in Washington, our presence here today clearly shows that we stand together in solidarity with the March for Our Lives Movement.

It has been 19 years since Columbine. Now for Congress that may have just been 19 years of business as usual. 19 years of accomplishing nothing. But for the students, time has passed differently. With every mass shooting that our leaders ignored, schools added an armed guard here, a new ID policy there. The responsibility has fallen on schools to keep the children safe, and as a result they are starting to look more and more like war zones. It’s gotten to the point where we’re asking our teachers, who are supposed to nurture and guide us, to carry guns that could kill their students in a cross-fire.

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This is what life has become like for the mass shooting generation. Not a single member of Congress can understand what we’ve been through, the psychological trauma we had to bear. Not a single member of Congress knows what it’s like to be crouched in a corner, flinching at even the sound of footsteps, praying for the announcement that it was just a drill. Every time there is a school shooting, we fear we could be next, that it could happen here, because after all, Parkland isn’t that different from home.

But I have faith that this time, it is going to be different, because it has to be different. We the children march today because our lives are at stake. We the children march today because our leaders have failed us. We the children march today because this should never happen again.

Even here in New Jersey, although we have an assault weapons ban, we don’t do enough for people with mental illnesses. Of course, an overhaul of the mental health care system will take time, and with a shooting every week this year, the one thing we don’t have is time. So instead, ask your representatives to pass red-flag legislation. This would allow police or family members to initiate a process that would confiscate guns from troubled individuals.

And I would urge Representative Watson Coleman, Congressman Booker, and Senator Menendez to introduce bills in Congress that are stronger than the Stop School Violence Act. Laws that will make schools all across America safer. Because no one is safe until we are all safe.

Congress, we will no longer be ignored. We will no longer be tuned out. We will use our voices and we will speak out together because our lives are at stake here. Come this November the students will come out in thousands, millions to vote.

Although I am afraid, I have faith. I have faith in myself and America’s youth that we will not stand for Congress’s complacency. I have faith that we will hold our elected officials accountable for keeping us safe, because if they do not have the strength to fight the gun lobby, then we will vote them out. If they think that weapons of war should be sold to civilians, then we will vote them out. If they refuse to protect us, if our safety is not their number one priority, then we will vote them out. We will vote them out, because the most powerful weapon for change that we have is our vote. And in November we will vote for our lives!

But let’s remember one very important thing. This is not about red vs. blue. This is about purple; this is about compromise. We need to come together as a community, as a nation, because the only way we can protect our children is if we work together. The world is watching now. No more excuses. It’s time for change. 

Vidhya Dhar

Class of 2019

Member East Brunswick High School Model United Nations