As students gathered outside of Walter M. Williams High School at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sayer Kirk read the names of each of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting, followed by 17 seconds of silence to honor each of them.
“One month ago, 17 people were brutally murdered in a place where they spend seven hours every day. They should’ve felt safe, and they did feel safe, until shots rang out through their school,” said Kirk, student council historian at Williams High School. “Today we are here to honor those 17 people and to demand a change.”
This student-led, student-organized walkout in Burlington was just one of more than 3,000 similar student walkouts held across the country on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Plans for Wednesday’s walkout at Williams High School originated when Kirk turned to her student council advisor, Robin Farber, with the idea. Kirk created a list of suggested slogans, ensuring they were non-political, before Farber took the plan to Alamance Burlington Superintendent Bill Harrison.
“By far I’ve been in a supportive role, and she did most of the planning,” said Farber. “Sayer would bounce ideas off of me, which I think is a good student council advisor role; you are trying to teach them to be the leaders of the future.”
Leading up to Wednesday’s event, student activists at Williams High School turned to their most frequently used social media platforms – Snapchat and Instagram – to share details and updates about the walk out.
On Wednesday morning, Principal Stephanie Hunt ensured that a school administrator visited every classroom to inform students that it was entirely their choice to walk out or not. Students who chose not to walk out remained in class with teacher supervision, while other teachers and staff proceeded outside with the students who chose to walk out.
“Walking out honors the 17 students that lost their lives and honors school safety. Walking out is not a political statement,” said Principal Hunt. “The important thing is that they know they have a voice and this is how they can respectfully show that.”
During the walk out, Superintendent Harrison commended the students for their thoughtful and considerate organization of the event.
“Some might say this is a political statement, a political event; this has nothing to do with politics. This has everything to do with honoring peers of yours who lost their lives way too early,” said Superintendent Harrison. “My biggest concern every morning is that all of you and your teachers and those who walk through any of our doors go home in the afternoon looking like they did when they came here.”
Harrison also spoke to the importance of finding solutions to keep students safe, regardless of political affiliation.
“Until we can find a way to have civil discourse about the challenges facing us, we’re not going to find a solution. But when I look out at you, I have every confidence that you’re going to do a better job than my generation has,” Harrison said.
“You realize, and we should all realize, that when a group of people with diverse opinions can come together towards a common goal, extraordinary things can happen.”