Seven days ago in Parkland, Fla., at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which is half an hour from my own high school, 17 innocent people — students, teachers and coaches — were gunned down. They were massacred by an AR-15 rifle, a weapon that never should have been anywhere near a school, just because they went into work, or went into learn, see friends, and do what every other kid in America does.

I’m an 18-year-old senior at Cypress Bay, a Broward County, Fla., school in the city of Weston, with 5,000 students. The campus looks a whole lot more like a college than an average high school — it’s enormous, with wide open spaces where kids hang out, eat lunch, and catch up. Put another way, we all had a sobering thought when we walked back onto campus Thursday: If another mass murderer was to stroll onto campus wielding a semiautomatic rifle, a school like ours would be an ideal target.

In fact, parents have already told our school’s administrators they’re not comfortable with their kids eating lunch in the courtyard; they think we’re too exposed.

18-year-old high school senior Devon Stoloff was one of a small group that organized Wednesday’s school walkout in Weston, Fla. (Credit: Devon Stoloff)

It’s been a week since the shooting, but our community is still shattered — and there’s a palpable feeling that something has got to change on a policy level to protect lives like ours.

That’s why I worked together with principal Scott Neely and senior class president Julia Levy to organize something larger. Julia and I wanted to stage a school-wide walkout for all 5,000 students, and we needed Principal Neely’s support to do it. (The senior class had already planned a walkout to the football field on a smaller scale, but we wanted to send a louder message.)

We’re outraged, we’re heartbroken, we’re afraid, and we’re going to be the generation that puts an end to gun violence. We have to be.

At around 5 o’clock Tuesday night, Julia and some other students and I came up with the idea for a large group of us to march down to Weston City Hall – it seemed like the right place to start. By 7:30 p.m. we were on the phone with Mr. Neely, who was committed to helping us, and suggested that we all gather in nearby Vista Park instead. Julia and I stayed in contact all night by text and on the phone. She created a digital flyer that she spread all across social media, namely on Instagram and Twitter, to get the word out. I spread the message to hundreds of students in group chats on WhatsApp.

Fast forward to this morning.
I woke up at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, and Julia and I met Mr. Neely in his office on campus to discuss how everything would play out. He told us he was proud of us, and we went over the final logistics to make this go as smoothly as possible.

Right before the walkout officially started, we placed 17 orchids — one for each victim — on the bottom step of the bleachers in Vista Park, in front of where we set up an area for our speakers to address the crowd.

At 10 a.m., Julia, Mr. Neely, and I finally left school and went out to the courtyard, and were met by 5,000 people — students and faculty pouring out of classrooms and buildings to gather on stairs, in corners, in open spaces, and to stand in solidarity with our cause. I’d never seen so many people from one school all gathered in the same spot. On top of that, the media had heard about what we were doing, and a ton of press was there — CNN, local news channels, Telemundo, all sending cameramen and film crews to cover the walkout. (Our on-campus TV station covered it with their drone.)

An aerial view of thousands of students in Vista Park in Weston, Fla., honoring the memory of those lost in the Parkland school shooting. (Credit: Jose Cabrera)

We made our way down to the park, and Julia spoke to the crowd on our behalf. She introduced three important guests we had invited — students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre and who had heard the bullets ring out. We knew them personally because our towns are so interconnected — basically, Weston is Parkland.

Each of those student speakers knew people who had been killed firsthand, and took turns sharing their experiences.

Their stories were terrifying to listen to: One of them thought the whole thing was a fire drill and accidentally ran toward the shooter. Another recounted the text messages she received from other kids in the line of fire — messages saying, “I love you,” and “Goodbye.”

Students made signs and gathered to hear stories from Parkland shooting survivors. (Credit: Ethan Shulkin)

It was very hard for a lot of staff and students to sit through this and hold back their tears. I turned my head to one boy who was a lot younger than me, who had grabbed his shirt and started crying listening to these stories. One of my friend’s cousins was killed in the shooting and when I looked over at him, you could see the pain all over his face.

The walkout lasted for about an hour, and afterward, it dawned on us just how real this whole thing was. The tragedy has hit home for our communities, and none of us will be the same since last Wednesday.

Thousands of students descend on Cypress Bay High School Wednesday to honor victims of last week’s Parkland massacre. (Credit: Jose Cabrera)

Where we go from here.
The work doesn’t stop with a walkout. I may be 18-years-old, but I know for a fact that the struggle has to continue if we’re going to push our lawmakers to implement reform that reflects the views that many people have, which aren’t necessarily political. They’re common sense.

At the end of the day, this isn’t an issue about Republicans or Democrats. This is an issue about us — kids. We all just want to go to school and be safe, and we need our government and our communities to protect us. That’s what this morning was about.

For now, I hope to see more walkouts — I think it’s really important that people continue to speak out to see change. That’s the only way to maintain the attention around all this and ensure that the innocent lives taken in Parkland are never forgotten.

So here’s what the other students and I want you to know: We won’t stop fighting, and we don’t plan to stay silent. Today we brought 5,000 people out to a park to say that gun violence needs to end. But if there’s one thing I’m sure of after this morning, it’s that this is just the beginning.

High schoolers in Weston, Fla., participate in a massive school walkout on Wednesday. (Credit: Ethan Shulkin)