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Commentary: Why I walked out of our “walkout”

Maya Wernick

Maya Wernick

Middle school students watch from the front gates of Archer as the older students sped off of campus to protest in the streets. The protest interrupted Archer's planned ceremony.

Maya Wernick, The Archer School for Girls

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To me, sitting in rows of strategically placed white folding chairs in the middle of our courtyard listening to a speaker is not a protest, nor a walk out.

The assembly was planned by a group of Archer upper schoolers as a way to “shed light onto some incredible student voices and exercise our right to stand up for what we believe in,” an email from the Walkout Leadership Committee said. But what originally manifested did not feel like that at all.

The point of the walkout on Mar. 14 was to show our support for the students in Parkland, who have been working tirelessly for more gun control, honor the 17 students and faculty members who were lost one month ago and to share our voices on why we need more gun control, which sitting quietly in the courtyard did not let us do.

Sitting formally in chairs and listening attentively to a speaker as a form of protest seemed eerily similar to the “thoughts and prayers” of many modern politicians. Thoughts and prayers will not stop horrible people from getting their hands on guns, and quiet obedience will not let anyone know that we have had #ENOUGH of this unnecessary violence.

National Walkout Day was supposed to be from 10:00 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. all around the world, holding one minute of silence for each victim lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But at Archer, our silence was broken by the sound of cheering students, honking cars and protest calls from Brentwood School students showing their support from across the street. I truthfully was jealous of them.

As I was sitting during a time where we wouldn’t have class anyway and waiting to hear from someone also on my side of the issue, the students less than a block away were getting to spread their message. At that moment, as the clock hit 10:19 a.m. and 10:20 a.m., and we were still sitting as we do for new student induction and Founders’ Day, one thought came into my head: What would Emma Gonzalez do?

Gonzalez is a fierce and passionate survivor of the Parkland shooting, who has been one of the many faces of this new revolution of students. She is the type of girl, student and leader that Archer has taught us to be. I knew, right then and there, that sitting in a planned assembly was not going to be enough for me.

So I stood up.

Kamryn Bellamy ’18 and I, shortly followed by Omari Benjamin ’18, stood up and began to walk out of the assembly.

I would like to clarify that I meant no disrespect to the students and faculty that worked hard to plan this event, nor was my intent to disrespect the last few Parkland students whose names had yet to be called, even at 10:20. I was upset, and so I stood up to go where I felt I could be most helpful, not to start controversy or conflict. I simply knew at that moment that I was needed elsewhere.

I spent most of February grieving for the loss of the Stoneman Douglas students and for the innocence that has been swiped from all of us students living in an age where school shootings are barely news anymore. I knew sitting there that my voice was not being heard and that no change was going to happen with me sitting idly by.

So I stood up with my head held high, ignoring the stares I was getting and the murmur that was spreading throughout the courtyard, and took my loud voice outside.

For my past four years at Archer, I have been so fortunate to have learned how to be an empowered, passionate and, frankly, bada** woman. My Archer teachers are women who fully embody what it means to be a fierce and strong woman (my sheroes, as Sonali Perera Bridges would say) and by men who understand the importance of educating girls and want the best for us and our future. I stood up in honor of them.

I walked out of the “walkout” to share my voice, loud and proud, as I have been taught to do for so many years. And the crowd of girls that began to follow me as I walked out of the silent courtyard proved to me, and I believe should confirm to the faculty, that they’ve done their jobs. They’ve taught us all to question authority when needed and to stand your ground no matter what. My voice is strong because of them, and my identity as an empowered woman is largely because of them.

While I understand how people can see my protest as an act of disrespect, I assure you it was quite the opposite. The students and faculty shot in Parkland don’t get to use their voice on this issue. The students who died at the hands of someone my age with a gun do not get the choice to share their voice anymore. So I knew I had to do it.

So in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jamie Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup and Peter Wang, I walked out of Archer’s “walkout,” and I could not be prouder.

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