More than 1,000 Fayetteville High School students gathered in the FHS courtyard Wednesday to commemorate the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland, Florida, shooting last month.
The walkout was a part of the the #Enough! National School Walkout, which raised awareness about issues of school safety and the impact of gun violence. Women’s March Youth Empower members organized the nationwide march that started at 10 a.m across the U.S. The walkouts lasted around 17 minutes to represent each of the victims of the Parkland shooting.
Student leaders and FHS administration spoke to the crowd, voicing their concerns regarding gun violence in the U.S. and their hopes to see the government take a stand against it.
The reason for coming together at the walkout was to remember the people killed in school shootings, said FHS student Cora Ferguson, a speaker at the walkout.
Ferguson thinks that it is just as likely for a shooting to occur at FHS as it was in Parkland, she said.
“All those students, those teachers that lost their lives, we have students and teachers just like that here,” Ferguson said.
FHS student and speaker Huxley Richardson thinks that FHS is a safe school and community, but that is what all students across the U.S. think when they come to class. Students have a right not to live in fear while at school, “but until then, change needs to happen,” he said.
School shootings are an occurrence that high school students have grown up around. Almost every student at FHS was born after the Jonesboro Westside Middle School shooting in 1998, said FHS student Zara Raezer, a speaker.
Westside students Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden shot and killed four students and a teacher March 24, 1998, at their middle school. Ten other children were wounded.
“This is our terrible generational quirk. This is what one day may define us when they talk about Generation Z,” Raezer said.
The students killed were much like students at FHS, Raezer said.
“They too had plans to go to prom, to pick up their yearbook, to graduate, to go to college,” Raezer said. “The students at Parkland were becoming adults, just like we are. The students at Parkland look like you. They look like your friends. They look like FHS.”
Living in fear that one day a student may be killed at school is greater than any high school drama, said FHS student Becca Tomlinson, a speaker.
“You, your friends and your families lives are on the line,” Tomlinson said. “We do not wish to take away your Second Amendment rights, instead we want the laws to be updated. It is not our teachers’ job to take bullets for us.”
In order for change to happen, students have to take a stand, Tomlinson said.
“Tell me how we, the students, are supposed to feel safe going to school being unaware of when or where the next school shooting will be?” Tomlinson said. “How are we supposed to focus on getting a good education when we fear the place that fears said education? Maybe teachers should start educating us on how to keep someone alive until the ambulance gets here since our government can’t figure out how to stop these shootings.”
Tomlinson thinks that it is a human right to have an opinion on gun control, but it is also a human right to live, she said. People are being killed and change needs to happen, Tomlinson said.
“Let this generation go down in the history books for demanding change when we saw the need,” Tomlinson said.
FHS student Kenzie Carson, Richardson, Tomlinson, Ferguson and Raezer worked with FHS officials to organize the walkout. Students organized most of the walkout event, but officials provided a microphone and a stand for students, said Alan Wilbourn, public information officer for the Fayetteville Public School District.
“We wanted to let students recognize what is going on nationally, and Fayetteville deeply values their right to freedom of speech,” Wilbourn said.
FHS students, teachers and staff are thankful that the Fayetteville School District supports its students, “unlike other schools that are punishing students for this,” said FHS Teacher Candace Austin.
Students who participated in the walkout at Bentonville High School were counted absent and will be given detention, the Bentonville School Board said on Twitter on Monday.
It was not only FHS students at the walkout. FHS alumnus Jim Burgin, who graduated in 1978, came to support the students, he said.
“My generation pretty much screwed everything up. These kids are the best hope we have,” Burgin said.