Southern Regional Students Show Unity in Support of Parkland School

Feb 21, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill DETERMINATION: Hundreds of Southern Regional High School students gather on the field outside the 11/12 building to remember the recent shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

As hundreds of Southern Regional High School students strode out from under the covered walkway right outside Principal Eric Wilhelm’s office window at the entrance to the 11/12 building just before noon on Feb. 21, each one walked with a purpose.

“For us, what happened in Florida was such a big deal because those students, pretty much, were us,” said senior Sarah Camp, who joined the mass gathering in the field in front of the school as part of “17 Minutes of Silence,” a brief memorial time to honor the recent victims of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“We’re lucky it didn’t happen here. A lot of us saw the videos of what happened on Twitter, and in the past I don’t think it was that real to us. But it was this time. And it kind of took over the school, that everyone wanted to see change.”

Seniors Kyra Zdep and Laura Esposito were the two who led the way at the rallying point. After Madison Morehouse noticed a list of different rallies and marches scheduled to take place throughout the country, she suggested to Esposito that Southern do something as well.

Esposito developed the idea for the brief memorial time and started a group chat early on Feb. 20, which quickly gained steam among the student body. By that afternoon, Zdep and Esposito had approached Superintendent Craig Henry about the idea for a mass gathering in support of the Parkland school.

“The student voice is extremely important to hear, and the discussion regarding the issues we’re hearing about seems to have been not occurring frequently enough by the people who have the opportunity to make change and affect policy,” Henry said afterward. “So when I heard our students were organizing this, I let them know that we weren’t going to be levying consequences.”

And with the administration behind the effort, word got around school in a hurry.

“There’s a responsibility in leadership, and I understood what they wanted to accomplish today and I’m proud of them,” Henry said. “Kyra and Laura are extremely invested, passionate young ladies, and by no means am I surprised or shocked they’ve taken the lead on this.”

Morehouse said the demonstration was as much about one student body standing up with others across the nation in unity as it was about a rallying cry for better gun control.

“I’m not taking a political standpoint on this,” she said. “The way I see it is we all need to get to a point where we come together and we all make a change together, as a nation.”

During the short memorial session, Zdep and Esposito took turns reading short biographies about each victim, followed by a moment of silence for each one. Standing beside the superintendent was Stafford Township Police Chief Tom Dellane, with a half-dozen or more officers present in some way – either at the site of the gathering or spread out on the grounds. Across the road at Southern Regional Middle School, hundreds more students could be seen gathered as well.

“It was amazing to see so many people out there,” said Zdep, the student council president. “We all seem to think Manahawkin’s a small town and nothing will ever happen here. But it just happened in Florida, to another small town, and then we realized ... yeah ... it can happen here. So this needed to happen today.

“We’re the future, and it starts with us. If we want to see change, it’s not going to happen without us.”

For Esposito, the demonstration had multiple purposes – to speak up about a greater need for better gun control, as well as a rallying cry to be more compassionate and understanding when dealing with others.

“It’s absolute insanity that you can walk into a place in Florida and get an AR-15 within the hour, whereas here it takes months just to get a handgun,” said the senior class treasurer. “Gun control should be federally regulated. It shouldn’t be state by state because it’s just too dangerous. We stand with the people in Florida. Political party doesn’t matter. We want change.

“And, yes, we need gun control, but we also need to be better humans. That starts by stopping the exclusion and the cliques, coming together and realizing that, in the end, all we have is each other. We all need to work on that. This stuff has to end now. We can’t wait until crisis happens to come together.”

Zdep said the show of unity likely won’t be the last at Southern.

“This is a big thing that shouldn’t have to be a big thing,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to be taught where to hide if someone’s shooting at us. This should be a once-in-a-million thing, not a once-a-week thing.

“But, of course, you never know what can happen. You never know what the next day can bring, even in school. Getting the issue out there and creating an awareness is important. We may live in a small town, and you may think it won’t happen here, but you never know. This doesn’t end with today.”

— David Biggy

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