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Walkout day is time of reflection for Diocese of Wilmington students

March 14th, 2018 Posted in Featured, Our Diocese Tags:


Chill swept through with a cold breeze March 14 from Delaware beaches into New Castle County and across the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

The message wasn’t lost anywhere.

Bells tolled 17 times at St. Elizabeth school, candles were lighted at St. Thomas More Academy, poetry recited at Ursuline Academy and prayerful recognition was offered throughout the Diocese of Wilmington and the Catholic schools within it. It was part of National School Walkout.

Sadness prevails at the loss of 17 students and instructors at a high school shooting in Florida last month, but this day during the brisk final week of winter was a time for young people to have their voices heard.

Enough is enough.

Peace is where it’s at.

Those are among the messages.

St. Elizabeth students show a sign of solidarity and offer prayer during National School Walkout day March 14.

St. E’s seniors Heather Selekman and Najaah McMillan and junior Sydni Hopes were among more than 100 students gathered at Canby Park across the street from the school, huddling in a whistling wind and temperature of 30 degrees.

“I hope to see some change,” McMillan said. “I hope people get educated. I don’t want this to happen again and again and again.”

They recognize the importance of trying to make a difference in the national debate about school safety and gun violence.

“Students have a bigger voice right now,” said Selekman. “I would hope someone sees all of this and says ‘Wow!’ And they feel passionate and get something done.”

Hopes knows the need for safety firsthand. She lost a cousin to gun violence.

“We need to do something now,” she said.

In addition to the 17-minute outdoor show of solidarity at 10 a.m., St. E’s hosted a prayer service in the afternoon. Participating students and staff joined the prayer and read petitions. The name, age and brief bio of each victim was read aloud by members of the St. E’s community who most closely reflected those of the victims Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a former student went on a campus shooting spree.

Students at St. Elizabeth’s gather at Canby Park for National School Walkout March 14, 2018.

At Ursuline, approximately 100 of the 190 upper school students took part in the walkout, most of them outside, although there were activities inside as well. The 17-minute event was part prayer, remembrance and call to action. Everything was planned and facilitated by students, although they had the support of the administration.

Junior Abby Rupert began the ceremony with a prayer, asking God to “heal their minds of trauma and devastation.” After that, as sophomore Ellen Schlecht read the names of the 17 victims, students placed a flower in a bucket in remembrance of each of the deceased.

Schlecht told students that the message they hoped to send “is one of hope and solidarity. We are making a promise to these 17 victims that they are not dying in vain. Unfortunately, it was their death that was our call to action.”

Sophomore Molly Clark, one of the organizers of the walkout, read a poem she wrote addressing those who say now is not the time to talk about what can be done to prevent another school shooting.

“But if not now, then when?” she read. “When all the children have disappeared, and their parents have cried all their tears?”

Ursuline Academy sophomore Molly Clark reads a poem to students March 14, 2018.

Before the choir sang “Can You Hear?” by Jim Papoulis, senior Yara Awad read off some sobering facts. Every day, 96 Americans are killed by a person with a gun. Of those, seven are teenagers. She said she respects the Second Amendment, but most Americans, she said, support common-sense gun control.

“The United States has a gun problem, a borderline epidemic. The answer is legislation,” she said. “We students cannot stand silent. We will demand change before another innocent life is taken.”

After the ceremony, Clark said she was motivated to organize the walkout with her counterparts around the state because “I don’t want to live in fear any more.

“There have been so many children and people lost to senseless gun violence in places that we shouldn’t have to worry about it. We shouldn’t have to worry about being shot in a mall or at the movies with our friends. We’re forced to grow up so early because of these tragic events.”

Clark said the youth movement would continue. She said many of those high school students throughout Delaware with whom she coordinated were scheduled to meet with Gov. John Carney the night of March 14 to discuss legislation they would like to see passed. They would like to see a higher age requirement for gun purchases, along with a ban on bump stocks and semiautomatic weapons.

The names of victims in Florida.

“I don’t think civilians should have these weapons that were crafted for war,” she said.

Future events include the national March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., with sibling marches elsewhere, and another walkout on April 20 in Delaware if the legislative push is not making progress, she added.

St. Thomas More Academy’s Student Body Association led a 17-minute prayer service in which a member of the SBA or a faculty member announced the name of one of the 17 killed at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, then lit a candle for that person as a photo and brief profile was shown.

The calling of each name came as part of a “Prayer for the Victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting” that the SBA put together. Other students and faculty joined hands in a show of solidarity in the effort to stop school violence.

All students and faculty pinned orange ribbons onto their clothing. The wearing of orange as a symbol against gun violence began in Chicago in 2015 by friends of a 15-year-old girl who had been shot to death. While the National Student Walkout responded primarily to violence in schools, St. Thomas More also remembered “the more than 90 lives cut short and the hundreds more injured by gun violence every day.”

Maia Olsen and Nicolette Pate of St. Thomas More Academy pin an orange ribbon on Mateo Randazzo’s sweater just before a prayer service marking the National Student Walkout against gun violence. Orange is symbolically used against gun violence, representing safety since hunters wear orange to help others see them. Dialog photo/Gary Morton

In April, the SBA plans several activities, including the planting of forget me not flower plants in a garden at the school; let students discuss school safety and gun violence, and encourage students to lobby for ways to help stem the wave of school violence.

“We are planning on writing our legislators, especially in Delaware,” said Kara Scarangella, a senior and SBA vice president.

Students also prayed for the young man responsible for the shootings in Florida, “for all victims of senseless violence,” for guidance for local and national leaders so they can “bring [to] an end to the chilling regularity of mass shootings and to secure schools as safe places.”

They also looked inward, praying that the St. Thomas More community might “never know the pain and suffering caused by such a tragedy, and that all students and staff will make others feel safe, welcome, and cared for.”

(Joseph P. Owens, Mike Lang and Gary Morton contributed to this story for The Dialog).

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