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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School visiting Parkland and reflecting on the tragedy

On February 14, Walpole High School students exchanged carnations and shared heartfelt messages to friends as they do every Valentine’s Day. In Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the holiday was very different. Towards the end of the school day, a former student entered the freshman building and took the lives of seventeen students and faculty. In the wake of the tragedy, the Douglas Eagles have unified as a community in mourning and begun a search for change.

Over February break, I visited family in Boynton Beach, Florida, only 20 minutes away from Parkland. Since the shooting happened days before my family and I left, we felt compelled to pay our respects. Ten days after the tragedy my mother, younger brother, grandmother and I drove to Parkland. It was impossible to miss the 17 memorials that laid upon the dry grass in front of the school, as they were covered in such brightly colored flowers, candles and balloons. Out of the 17 memorials, 12 were constructed with wooden crosses and the other 5 were stars of David.

Camera in hand, I walked along the chain-link fence surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School which was decorated with signs and flowers and teddy bears placed there by the thousands who visited since February 14.

17 wilting roses through the links of the fence. Each one has a personalized note for the victims.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas' class of 1996 created a large banner to sign that hangs on the fence to support their former high school.

“Since this tragedy, I’ve really had time to think about how precious life is and how absolutely lucky I am to still be alive. I’ve been telling my family and friends that I appreciate them and love them more often, and with my girlfriend whom I am extremely relieved that she made it out ok, I’ve told her I love you as many times as possible,” Max Fink, a Douglas student said.

“Every day, I am still in disbelief that this happened and I wish that it never occurred,” Max’s brother Alex Fink said. Alex and his twin brother are juniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The brothers are members of the band program, and they traveled to New York City just after the tragedy to play at Carnegie Hall. “Two of the students who unfortunately passed away were part of the band program and so I knew them through that,” Alex said. When they performed in New York City, the band members were still shaken up from what had happened at their school earlier that week. "I had a solo in our last song and I cried by the end of our performance because that song was very emotional to me and I just thought of how proud I am to be representing such a spectacular school, and to be able to really let my emotions loose through the music" Max said.

“I had a solo in our last song and I cried by the end of our performance because that song was very emotional to me and I just thought of how proud I am to be representing such a spectacular school, and to be able to really let my emotions loose through the music.” -Max Fink

Since they are in the junior class, Alex and Max were in a separate building from where the shooting occurred: the Freshman Building at Douglas. The brothers were in the band room with their classmates hiding behind instrument lockers.

“It was reassuring knowing that my brother, a person who is a large part of my life, was right there in the same room as me, and being able to know that he was alive during all of the mess was very comforting,” Max said.

Even though they were away from where the tragedy happened, gunshots were still audible to the twins as they huddled among their band classmates. “Since February 14th, I have been more sensitive to loud noises. I feel paranoid going to certain public places and whenever I see a police car I get a little scared,” Alex Fink said. “I am really thankful to be alive and I make sure that I get the most out of every day.”

Since Valentine’s day, the brave Marjory Stoneman Douglas students have been publicly speaking around the nation in search of improved school safety. The teens are all over the media expressing their strong beliefs to the public, touching millions with their powerful words. Alex said he is proud of those who are speaking out on the news. “Unfortunately, I have seen some classmates lie about information and I do not really think that is appropriate. To those who are hearing them speak, I hope that they become inspired to make a difference in their own communities and inspire others,” Fink said.

Since they have gone back to class, the community is newly close-knit. Max Fink said, “Our school has been transformed into a much stronger community of people that I would’ve never imagined would’ve happened before. I’ve seen people that I know I never would’ve talked to and they’ve personally asked how I was doing and tried to be friendly with me, and it’s little things like that that have been spreading across this community of ours which we are very fortunate to be a part of.”

Even though the students and staff seemed to become more unified as a community, it was difficult for students and staff to keep their minds off the tragedy. “Heading back to school was a little comforting knowing that I can see everyone again but sad knowing that I won't see those who are no longer there,” Alex Fink said. "[Going back to school] was eerie and slightly concerning to me because of all of the safety precautions being implemented. I didn’t like the large amount of police and news outlets, because it just felt like we were always being watched, and even though I appreciate the help and assistance of the hundreds of thousands involved, at some point I would’ve liked a break" Max Fink said.

"[school] was eerie and slightly concerning to me because of all of the safety precautions being implemented... it just felt like we were always being watched, and even though I appreciate the help and assistance of the hundreds of thousands involved, at some point I would’ve liked a break." -Max Fink

Although the past month has been overwhelming for the Parkland students, they are eternally grateful for the nationwide support they have received and together the students are seeking a peaceful change. “We as a nation need to unite and stop fighting with one another,” said Alex Fink.

March 14th was proclaimed National Walkout day prompting thousands of American schools to walk out to show solidarity, including Walpole one day later on account of snow. I stood outside proudly to show support along with the rest of the large crowd. Some students even sported orange hats (because orange is the national walkout color) that said “#enough.”

“[Seeing the walkouts] makes me feel like people really do care about not only us as a school and a community, but also that people care about the actual cause. It’s reassuring knowing that people want a change with what’s going on in our country, and I sincerely respect that.” said Max Fink.

Middle and high school students are not the only ones so passionate about the “Never Again” movement. Some may say that younger children should be able to live blissfully unaware of such issues, but the American youth are standing tall against gun violence. When I visited Parkland, a large portion of the signs on the fence were messy drawings by children saying they were sorry for Douglas’ loss and I saw many children placing down flowers in front of the memorials.

Since the tragedy, schools around the nation have stood in solidarity with the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Max Fink said “It’s events like these that unfortunately do bring people to more realizations, and I’ve come to think of life as a blessing and I really try to look at my existence as a gift, and since the shooting, I’ve really started to appreciate this amazing family of people that I’ve been exposed to and I am truly blessed"

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