LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Passaic Valley High School students held a walk-out and gathered in the Griswold Gym on March 14 to honor the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. School administration worked with the students by providing them with a safe and respectful forum to conduct the event.
Aimed at honoring the victims, while bringing the PVHS community closer together at the same time, they joined students from schools throughout the nation in peacefully protesting gun violence after 17-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day, killing 17.
Held exactly one month after the shooting, the student organized event began with the singing of the National Anthem by Annie Challice. Saqlain Sattar, PVHS Student Senate president, and event co-organizer Sydney Meehan addressed the student body, staff and guests.
"We are here today to unite, not just as a school, but as a community," Sattar said.
Meehan noted that every one of the 17 victims had their own story that made them special.
"They will not be forgotten," she said.
Following a reading of the names of the 17 victims and a moment of silence, Andre Papasavas, class of 2018 valedictorian, said that all it can take for someone struggling is one smile.
"That smile can change their day, their week, their month, their year, or their life" he said. "I urge each and every one of you to smile to 17 people in the hall today. Shake 17 different hands."
Noting the students were asked to keep the event non-political, Papasavas said that right now, thoughts and prayers are not enough.
“It’s time for we as students to stand up,” he said. “Now is the time for action.”
PVHS Superintendent JoAnn Cardillo noted that after the Parkland shooting, rather than have an assembly for the entire student body, Principal Ray Rotella and Student Activities Coordinator Joe Benvenutti went to individual classes to speak with the students about safety and how the PV community can come together. Benvenutti noted that the students initiated plans for the walk-out.
"Sometimes you don't really realize the power of your voice," Cardillo said of the students. "We are very proud of them."