|In a solemn gathering on the outdoor basketball courts at Custer County Schools, almost the entire middle school and high school student body and staff respectfully joined hundreds of thousands of students across the country remembering the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre one month ago, on Valentine’s Day, February 14.
The student-initiated, school-supported event was preceded by a quiet gathering of some high school students alone at the flag pole, ten minutes prior to the larger 10 a.m. assembly in the basketball courtyard. They had walked out earlier, according to junior Holly Wenger, “to reiterate that it is meant to be a student-led, voluntary walk-out, rather than a school-enforced activity.” While there, the seven students prayerfully lifted up the names of the 17 students lost to gunfire at Parkland.
They then processed to the fuller gathering and joined in hearing Student Council President Riley Smith address the crowd with words of encouragement to be strong, hold together as a family, and to remember that no one student experiencing anger or loneliness needs to feel removed from the family. “We are a community, a family, we live and learn together,” she said, “and if anyone feels hurt or angry, talk to us, to me, to a friend or someone new to you in the family.”
With that, she asked that everyone there greet 17 other students or staff that they did not know or had not met, as a symbol and reality of the community that exists and is available within the schools.
Afterwards, the students and staff stood for several minutes of silence, in a moment of solidarity with students across the country, in remembering the 17 youth lost to mindless violence in Florida. Those who wanted, and it seemed just about everyone gathered at the event so wanted, then signed a red banner pledging against violence.
As the 200 or so students returned to their classrooms, Doreen Newcomb, Board of Education member present for the event, said “I’m proud of our students; they acted professionally and were respectful…Students and principals did an exceptional job of planning and preparing for the event.” Faculty member Jim Bistodeau, also present at the gathering, added, “It’s noteworthy that this was student initiated and Student Council led.”
– W.A. Ewing