Having covered the gun-control walkouts in March, I was one of many student journalists who eagerly piled into Media Arts Center room 105 Wednesday afternoon for a video interview with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student reporters. Their coverage of the tragic Valentine’s Day shooting gained national attention and the wake of the MSD student body’s activism reached all of us in the form of walkouts and marches. The Paly Voice hosted the call, which was streamed through Periscope, while representatives from other Palo Alto High School publications attended. These are the things that I learned from that conversation.
From the outside looking in, the staff of MSD’s newsmagazine The Eagle Eye seem “normal.” Rebecca Schneid, one of the editors-in-chief, does her homework and laughs at her friends’ jokes. Staff photographer Kevin Trejos loves to take pictures. Staff writer Lewis Mizen is a humble guy with a suave British accent who does what he can to help his classmates out.
Somehow, these “normal” teenagers shouldered a Herculean burden.
On Valentines Day, 17 people that these students knew, in some cases terribly closely, were killed. The victims included 14 “normal” children and three “normal” adults. As the world watched through shocked (and admittedly, in my case, teary) eyes, the Eagle Eye staff members were among many Parkland students who decided to act. They felt they had to tell the stories that their friends were no longer here to share.
These actions included national school walkouts, the March For Our Lives, televised interviews, a printed memorial edition of The Eagle Eye and a special edition yearbook honoring the victims.
Nikhita Nookala, a copy editor who worked on the Eagle Eye’s first news story in response to the shooting about a candlelight vigil, touched on the writers’ challenge of releasing a memorial edition that hits so close to home, regardless of whether they knew the victim.
“When we first started the memorial issue, it was hard for all of us because some of the people that were in it we had a personal connection to and some of them we didn’t know at all which was like a different challenge all together,” Nookala said Wednesday during the interview. “It takes a toll on you after a while.”
The staff acted under extreme pressure and emotional struggles most people are too fortunate to understand. None of this stopped people from lashing out at the students over the Internet. They received insults far too crude and brutish for me to mention.
The actions of these students are certainly evidence, if not proof, of three important rules.
First, youth are impressively powerful, especially when surrounded by other motivated people. It’s true that the students we spoke to were “normal” in that they were kind and friendly, but they also demonstrated something amazing and present in all of us: an ability to drive change. Whether you like it or not, the influence of a passionate young person who’s willing to speak up is all around.
Second, well-handled journalism education works. The work of these reporters managed to resonate with people around the world on a personal level while contributing to a nationwide political and philosophical debate. Imagine how different things would have been had these students never been given a platform nor properly taught how to use it. Attending the convention of the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association in San Francisco and seeing so many students like those from Parkland gave me hope.
Third, “normal” people are fierce. “Normal” people are resilient and “normal” people are determined. The movement that these “normal” students helped build, similarly to other famous political movements, are driven by “normal” leaders and followers. I’ve now come to realize that the “normal” people who surround us all are the faces of change.
I’m proud of my many teachers who have helped me and my classmates grow and learn to use our voices. Most of all, I’m proud of my classmates on both ends of the political spectrum who speak up and take their passion and ideas to the streets in peaceful political demonstration.
As the dust settles In Parkland, their spirits seem unbroken, their resolve strong and their personalities “normal”. While the immediate legislative consequences of their plight are anyone’s guess as of now, and these students no doubt are in some ways scarred for life, one thing can be assured: Change is the new “normal.”