Silent no more amid gun violence

Port High students plan walkout on anniversary of Parkland, Fla., school tragedy to lend their voices to outcry over shooting, urge input on gun laws, promote kindness

STANDING OUTSIDE Port Washington High School, where a March 14 walkout is planned, were event organizers Gabbie Matous (left) and Madelyn Stucky. The seniors said the 17-minute event is intended to protest gun violence, urge input on gun laws and promote kindness on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School seniors Madelyn Stucky and Gabbie Matous are so shocked by mass killings like the one that claimed the lives of their peers at a Parkland, Fla., high school last month that they are determined to do something about a national problem that has uniquely afflicted their generation.

They are organizing a Wednesday, March 14, walkout at Port High where, beginning at 10 a.m. and lasting 17 minutes in honor of the 17 students and teachers killed by a shooter armed with an AR-15 assault rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, students will leave their classes and gather outside the school to make their voices heard.

“There are a lot of adults who think because we’re teenagers our opinions aren’t important or we’re just not aware of what’s really going on, so it says a lot about our generation that we’re coming together so we can be heard,” Matous said, noting that the Port High event is being held in conjunction with a national walkout on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shootings.

Their goals, Stucky and Matous said, are to protest gun violence and the fear it has spread through schools in all corners of the country, urge those who believe tougher gun laws are needed to contact legislators, promote an atmosphere of kindness and tolerance and express sympathy and support for those whose friends and relatives were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the mass shootings that preceded it.

“We want those 17 minutes to be productive, so we’re planning to distribute information about how people can contact their legislators,” Matous said. “We want people to take advantage of the information we provide and express their opinions about gun laws.

“This is a very large and complex issue and we want to stay positive and make sure people’s opinions are respected, and we want to spread positivity and kindness.”

For Stucky and Matous and other members of their generation, gun violence is personal because of the fear it spreads even in communities that haven’t had to deal with mass shootings, they said.

“I worry about something happening at our school,” Stucky said. “There have been threats before, and when that happens people get scared, so scared they don’t want to come to school.

“I’ve personally been afraid to go to school after there have been threats. I don’t want to lose my life because someone is angry. I don’t want to become another statistic.”

Matous said that even something as routine as college recruiters visiting the school this time of year can be stressful.

“Seeing people in the school who you don’t know is a scary experience,” she said. “I’ve had those thoughts, ‘Are we all going to get shot?’

“To have that fear of going to school is a problem, and because so many people feel that way, it’s a really big problem.”

Shortly after the Parkland shooting, Matous posted the idea of a walkout on a senior class Facebook group chat. Almost immediately, Stucky volunteered to help plan the event.

Not long after that, Matous was summoned to Principal Eric Burke’s office.

“We put the event out on Facebook and apparently Mr. Burke saw it because he called me to his office,” she said. “We had planned on telling him about it, but he beat us to it.”

Rather than opposition, the walkout was greeted with support, Matous said.  

“In other school districts, students are being threatened with suspensions if they walk out,” she said. “I’m grateful our administration is so supportive.”

Burke said Tuesday that those students who wish to participate in the walkout will be allowed to do so without repercussions.

“This is definitely not a school event,” he said. “It’s student-driven, just like it is throughout the nation.

“We realize students want to have a voice, and we’re supportive of that. And we’ve seen in other schools that trying to prohibit walkouts doesn’t work very well.”

Supt. Michael Weber said the administrative council discussed the walkout Tuesday.

“We know students want to do something to make sure their voices are heard,” he said. “This is really a tremendous group of young people, and we’re not telling them what they should do. We’re answering their questions, making suggestions and making sure everyone will be safe.”

During the walkout, Stucky and Matous plan to speak, but before she addresses her classmates, Stucky said, she felt it was important to talk to one of the students who survived the Parkland shooting. After seeing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg on CNN, she sent him an Instagram message.

“I felt that I really needed to talk to someone involved in this tragedy,” Stucky said. “He messaged back telling me to thank everyone at Port High for their efforts and support.

“I feel like there is a bond among us because people of all different backgrounds from all over this country are coming together over this issue.”

Tolerance will be an overriding theme of the walkout, where students will have the opportunity to sign a kindness pledge and wear an orange ribbon to symbolize their commitment to civility, Stucky and Matous said. 

Participants are asked to wear orange — the color that has come to symbolize the anti-gun violence movement — and Stucky and Matous have spent their own money on orange bandanas for the event.

“We are encouraging anyone to come, whether it is students or community members who would like to peacefully protest or even to speak,” Stucky said. “We understand not everyone has the same views about gun laws, but we respect their beliefs, and we are asking for their respect for ours.”

She said her opinions on gun laws have been shaped by the age she lives in.

“I personally think the minimum age for owning a gun should be raised,” Stucky said. “What does a high school student need an assault rifle for? Those weapons are designed for war and used for mass killings. It’s just not necessary to own assault rifles.”

The walkout is just one way Stucky and Matous intend to make their voices heard. At 17 and 18, respectively, they will soon be able to vote, and the tragedies they have seen unfold at schools across the country and the fear that has spread to schools like theirs will influence their decisions, they said. 

“I am really looking forward to voting,” Matous said. “Most definitely gun control issues will influence my vote.”

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