Tamalpais High School students take first steps in addressing tragic Florida school shooting

Neva Legallet and Daniela Schwartz

Upon arriving to school and beginning their first period, a group of Tamalpais High School (Tam) students couldn’t shake the fact that today was not a normal day. Thursday, Feb. 15 marked the day following the nation’s most fatal high school shooting to date, which took place in Parkland, Fla. What started as an impassioned conversation about the catastrophe progressed in both numbers and intensity as the day advanced, with students taking over one of the largest classrooms. Abandoning their usual schedules in favor of planning events in reaction to the Florida shooting, hundreds of students entered the conversations, cycling through the large classroom over the course of the day according to ASB vice president and editor-in-chief of Tam News, Megan Butt.

An outcome of the day’s discussions included the creation of a vigil which took place the same day, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. at Tam. A group of over 100 people consisting of students, teachers, parents, community members and local news broadcasters crowded around the candle-lit entrance of the Mill Valley school to mourn and address the tragic shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The students also organized a cross-town march for Friday, Feb. 16.

  “A big part of tonight is to show support and condolences for those affected by the issue, whether it’s people who have lost children or lost family members. Tomorrow we’re hoping to do something a little more action-oriented, not necessarily legislative, but something to show that we are fighting this. We are taking a stance on this,” Butt said.

Holding a candle, a student listens to a speech made by a peer.
Holding a candle, a student listens to a speech made by a peer.

Reaching out to local news sources, students spread the word about both events, encouraging all members of the community to attend the vigil and wear orange as a symbol of protest against gun violence. Students passed out orange ribbons to attendees and designed hashtags like #TamStudentsforParkland, a tactic for increasing social media buzz about the event according to senior Joe Rico.

The vigil gave multiple students and other members of the community the opportunity to speak in front of the crowd. Many expressed their solidarity for those affected by the tragedy in Florida, while others used the platform to protest the prevalence of mass shootings and gun violence in America.

Freshman Jake Cohen took his place on the steps to encourage his peers to take further action.

“We implore you not to stay quiet in the face of adversity, because your neutrality will always side with injustice. We are dedicating ourselves to protecting our community and protecting our generation. This starts with speaking up,” Cohen said.

Congressman Jared Huffman, whom Tam students contacted prior to the event, sent a statement which argued passionately for a reform of the background check system.

“In the face of unspeakable tragedy if all Congress offers is silence, then we are disrespecting the victims and their families. We need to finally break the hold that the gun lobby has over congressional Republicans and the White House to keep our kids safe. Enough is enough,” the statement said, as read by Amy Schroeder.

Tam parent Noah Loder echoed this, citing the large amounts of money that Republican politicians such as Donald Trump, John McCain and Raymond Burr have received from the National Rifle Association (NRA).   

“I don’t mean to politicize it, but it has to be politicized for anyone to pay attention,” Loder said. “I think that the kids, who are articulate and have social media, need to make a statement, need to mobilize, need to shame these politicians that don’t do anything about it.”

Loder expressed his disgust over the corruption in government which has prevented stricter gun control laws, a common theme of the evening.

“They need a scarlet letter on their suits, a sign saying ‘I took this much money from the NRA,’” Loder said.

Growing in size as the night progressed, the vigil was attended by over 100 students, parents, faculty members, and other people from the community.
Growing in size as the night progressed, the vigil was attended by over 100 students, parents, faculty members, and other people from the community.

Tam students have taken up this cause as well with the creation of the group Tam Students Against Gun Violence. According to AP Literature teacher LesLeigh Golson, the group plans to continue building upon the ideas about gun violence prevention which were proposed throughout the day. Golson will also help by providing the students with faculty sponsorship and the foundation they need to accomplish their goals.

“I really want to encourage other adults to use their power as adults to amplify student voice, to allow them to have a forum and to know that there are people out there who will not take over and will not dominate the conversation, but instead allow them a place to breathe, a place to take action, a place to process,” Golson said. “I’m really hoping that Tam and all of schools in Marin County, and even in our state, can start to empower the young people who this is affecting the most to do something about it.”

Golson, who facilitated Thursday’s discussions, said that the students immediately focused on reacting to the issues with action, as they did not want to waste time or lose momentum, especially as next week is a week-long vacation, Ski Week.

“We’ve really started to think about tomorrow. We started off with some people planning when we return from Ski Week some ideas about the way things could manifest. But we really focused on action before Ski Week, we didn’t want to let time go and lie and wait,” Golson said.  

With a tremendous amount of participation, the vigil will serve as the starting point for further action by Tam students, beginning with Friday’s march, which will take place at 2:45 p.m. and start from Tam’s flagpole. However, such action isn’t exclusive to the Tam High School community. Participants in the event expressed their desire for a “chain reaction” to take place across the larger Marin area.

Showing undivided support, community members of all ages attended the event.
Showing undivided support, community members of all ages attended the event.

In his speech, Cohen captured the spirit of the evening in calling for further action by the students themselves.

“Our voices, our generation, will not be silenced in the face of injustice. We as young people have a few things to say. We say time is up for easy access to firearms. We say time is up on pushing political agendas before we do what’s necessary to protect our democracy. We say time is up for silence, complacency and inaction. Our right to get an education, our right to survive a day at school outweighs your right to own a gun of any kind.”