PARKLAND, FL- Everyone in Parkland remembers exactly where they were when the news of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas broke. For many parents, news of the tragedy was instantaneous, as their children were at school and in the classrooms affected. Local residents and families of MSD students were trying to wrap their minds around what had actually happened that afternoon, let alone absorb the reality that lives were suddenly and innocently lost in this horrific act of evil. 

Two years later, Parkland is not the same community that was operating full-throttle that Valentine's Day of 2018 before the tragedy occurred. Students that attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as local families can attest, tend to have high expectations for their lives. They are driven and competitive. We, the parents, have lofty goals for our families and for our children. We dare to dream, and we dare to compete at the highest levels of society; educationally, athletically, and socially. This competitiveness is still part of the fabric of life in Parkland, but the community is not the same.

Today's Parkland is a kinder and gentler Parkland. Yes, we still honk horns at four-way stops and compete hard in the classrooms and on the athletic fields, but the shared experience of February 14 impacted this community in a way that will impact it, I believe, forever. Our community today is closer than it was two years ago, and instead of competitiveness dominating the fabric that knits our residents together, it's solidarity. It's awareness and sensitivity towards our neighbors. Many of the families that lost their loved ones in the tragedy are still in Parkland, soldiering on with their lives. They have no choice but to get out of bed and live their lives each day, always remembering their loved ones and trying to figure out how to proceed with life. It's still painful. It's still tragic. It's still heartbreaking.

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For many Parkland residents, I'd almost dare say all Parkland residents, not a day goes by when we are not thinking about or reminded of February 14. It's that memory that spurs so many people to make change, not just in our community but in our country and in the world. Foundations have been created, nonprofits formed, and annual benefits dot our calendars in recognition of the seventeen lives we lost that day. These efforts don't change the events of the day two years ago, but they do tap into a deep desire to love and help the world in the face of tragedy. It's the response we were created for, and the belief that ultimately good triumphs over evil, whether we see it in this lifetime or not. It is faith, hope, and love. 

Many of us will participate in events that give back to the world today. We'll remember and recognize our family and friends that lost their lives two years ago, and we'll still experience grief and pain over the loss of our loved ones. In the midst of profound sadness today, I will be thankful for our Parkland community that has come together to love, support, and unite our community. It's an empathetic Parkland that is learning how to love our neighbors in all circumstances. May God's hand touch and bless each of you today.