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CHS Walkout: What Will Bring Us Together?

Laura Scudder, Bleu Print Editor

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On February 14th, 2018, 17 lives were lost during a school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. More issues with guns have followed afterward, sparking much debate between citizens. Though the U.S. has experienced various shootings in years past—with one even occurring in the Chelsea School District, in which Superintendent Joseph Piasecki was fatally shot—the one that occurred in Parkland proved to be different. Afterward, students were not silent; they were loud in their mourning, forcing all to listen as they raised their voices towards Washington to encourage the change of gun control laws within the nation. There have been various controversies surrounding this shooting and the students’ actions both during and after. Some think that more should have been done by building security while the shooting occurred, some think the students themselves should not have filmed as they had, as well as think that the protests arisen post-facto have no place in society during this time. There have been debates on both sides of the aisle, meaning from both liberal and conservative viewpoints, as to what should happen next: more gun control, arm teachers, ban assault rifles, protect the Second Amendment—there as so many complexities that fall in line with this issue. The students in Parkland are ones who advocate deeply for stricter laws against guns, and have encouraged young people across the United States to join in with their own voices.

On Wednesday, March 14th, 2018—just one month after the shooting at Parkland—students at Chelsea High School left their classrooms at 10am for 17 minutes, one for each live lost at Stoneman Douglas High School. Even amid controversy, such as Twitter arguments between Chelsea High students, students left to both honor such lives and to protest gun control within the United States. The walkout at CHS was organized by Cabinet, the highest level of student council, in line with the administration. Three students voluntarily spoke at the rally, each one lending their voices to something they felt to be greater than they were; the whole gathering started with junior Jack Conlin, as he introduced the logistics of the walkout—which essentially was that students were to remain in the commons of the high school for 17 minutes, which of this choice Conlin said: “The decision to gather in the commons was made because we thought it would be the easiest space to meet. Though going outside would’ve been ideal, it made more sense to stay inside because of the microphone and the balcony. Looking back I really wish we could’ve found a way to leave the building. I think the event was successful, but it would have felt more significant if we had been outside like other schools across the country.” Senior Jenna Gileczek began a slam poem shortly after, followed by a speech from junior Payton Doan, and finally ending with another expression from Jack Conlin. Though they had different reasons for being there, all three of the students truly meant to unite the student body, just as the kids at Parkland are doing throughout the country, as Conlin put it: “Emma Gonzalez and every student from Parkland that spoke with the media inspired me to speak. As I listened to them I realized that they are not unlike me and that they, along with the rest of the country, deserve more than just thoughts and prayers, they deserved change so that no atrocity like this will ever be committed on our soil again.”

Politics was not the sole voice of the walkout for all, though it was an underlying current—as Gileczek stated: “We made it a goal not to make the event a protest against/for any issue, but to honor the students who died in Parkland and highlight the need for change as a whole. We didn’t want to spark any debates or create tension, but rather bring the student body together.” One of Gileczek’s fellow speaker concurred in thought with another statement; Doan also focused less on the political side of the equation, saying, “I know that some walkouts across the nation were about stricter gun control, and I know Jack Conlin mentioned that briefly in his speech, but I chose to avoid it because I would say the main message of my speech was to convey that no matter anyone’s stance politically, this isn’t a time of division, but rather a time for unity in which students must unanimously agree these tragedies must end. At one point I said, ‘I don’t know what the answer is, but every possible solution should be heard in an open minded manner,’ and I included that because I do believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion on this subject, and every voice should be heard—but in a respectful and open-minded manner to other opinions.”

There was a bit of a political mindset going on through speaker Jack Conlin. “There wasn’t a concerted effort to de-politicize the event, none of us (the speakers) were given any suggestion or direction on what to say. Each of the three of us had similar messages, and while it wasn’t the most radical stance, my speech (I don’t want to speak for Jenna and Payton) was not written to remove politics from the event. It was a rally for gun control. We joined the national movement, and while we aimed to honor those lost in Parkland, we didn’t want to change the message of those who organized the protest,” Conlin said. No matter the stance, all three speakers wished to provide a place for all to gather together and remember others who came before them.

The ways in which Conlin, Gileczek and Doan spoke each had their differences—with Gileczek’s standing out in particular. While sporting a message of unity like her counterparts, Jenna took on the issue through a slam poem. In her bout of spoken word, all could hear the pain and passion which she possessed on the topic of Stoneman Douglas and school shootings. Her inspiration to write and perform a poem came from Mrs. Sinacola, the AP Literature teacher here at Chelsea High School. This poetic take allowed for the crowd to experience a moment of catharsis for the tragedies that have plagued the United States within these past years.

Aside from speaking themselves, the members of student council wished to provide the student body of Chelsea with its own way to get involved. To encourage participation, student council printed and handed out flyers with the names and contact information of Michigan’s representatives.

Some students believed that the walkout at Chelsea High School was too much, while others thought it was not enough. The walkout may have been taken more seriously had students been allowed to leave the building, but safety and the logistics of leaving the building was a concern. The administration could have chosen to place restrictions on the speakers to avoid controversy, but Mr. Kapolka and the rest of the staff—and Mr. Kapolka, though a figurehead for the high school, is not always the sole proprietor of such decisions, and thus should not receive blame nor credit as such—allowed for the speakers to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak as they wished. There may not be room to please all, particularly when the topic is so heavy and weighs greatly on many; people have their differences of opinion and this often gets in the way. However, it should not have to be this way. Young children, teenagers and adults should each have the equal opportunity to state their views and be heard, rather than disrespected. This is not always the case when it comes to politics, nor society. Perhaps issues would be solved in a timely manner if this were different. Disagreement does not have to equate to discord.

More information and video on Chelsea High School’s walkout can be found on Twitter @chsbulldoglife and walkouts all across the country can be viewed on local, state and national news sources.

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