Nearly 230 Mahomet-Seymour High School students participate in March 14 walkout

With the wind blowing across the Mahomet-Seymour football field, it was difficult to hear high school students say, “enough” from the bleachers.

But the presence of nearly 230 students — roughly a quarter of the M-S High School student population, — on the field at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14 sent a simultaneous 17-minute message of solidarity as they joined nearly 1,000,000 other students nationwide who are calling for gun regulation discussion and action towards providing safe learning and work environments for students and staff.

“I felt that the community and this country needed to know that students aren’t  going to sit idly by anymore and let legislators keep making the same mistakes,” event organizer and Junior Class Student Council President Annie Taber said. “I think it is important to walk out and show the adults in charge that we have such a high volume of students who are fed up with their inaction. It’s a recognition of the inadequacy of the current legislation on guns.”

Taber joined forces with friends like Junior Class President Allie Nofziger to work with the M-S administration to hold the peaceful event.

“Being able to work with the administration to allow students to peacefully assemble to honor the victims of the Parkland (Fla.) shooting and have open discussions about what students believe gun reform and other legislative changes should be put into effect in our country was a privilege that I am so grateful we were given,” Nofziger said.

Event organizers placed 17 backpacks on the bleachers to represent the 17 students and staff who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb.14.

“It was also a goal of ours to show Parkland student survivors that even all the way here in Mahomet, we see them, we hear them and we stand with them,” Taber said.  “Making sure we did our part as students was emphasized too, making sure that people follow through with their frustrations.”

During a moment of silence, students faced the bleachers.

But students wanted to do more than just remember. They “hoped to show adults, and fellow students who may not have strong opinions about this, that we have the numbers and the commitment and the drive to actually do something about it,” Taber said.

Organizers delivered orange ribbons and contact information on how to reach elected officials to students on the field. They also gave time for their peers to talk about issues that are important to them.

Senior Laura Bane encouraged all students, who are or will soon be voting age, to cast their ballots.

“Many of the students involved in the walk-out were seniors of voting age,” Bane said. “Sometimes as a high schooler I feel that my voice can get lost in the shuffle. Through voting, I can help elect those who will fight for the legislation I feel strongly about, issues like common sense gun laws.”

“I think we teens take it upon ourselves to constantly challenge the unacceptable,” she continued. “Naturally, I think progressivism increases over time, so we’re going to seem like the most liberal age group. But I think political activism among my generation transcends party lines; conservative classmates of mine attended the walk-out today as well to voice their opinions on gun control and future safety measures they’d like to see taken in schools.”

Bane would like to see Mahomet-Seymour High School host voting drives.

“Many young people aren’t informed about how to register to vote,” she said. “A high school’s primary goal should be to create productive citizens who can contribute to society, and I believe that part of that contribution is participating in American democracy.”

Senior Lauren Gilonske also believes that voting is the best way for citizens to make real change.

For Gilonske, the walkout was also a way for students to become informed about the issues. Gilonske believes that her generation, categorized as Generation Z, is the generation that will rise up and make change.

“(We are) a catalyst for change due to our intolerance for injustice, and strong beliefs,” Gilonske said. “My generation has made a strong effort to back up these beliefs by educating not only themselves, but urging others to be educated on the facts.”

While students were on the M-S football field for various reasons, including some  who support the right to own a gun, Taber would like to see the implementation of common sense gun laws.

“Making sure that those who are unfit to carry weapons with deadly force don’t have access to them,” she said. “Making sure that weapons designed for battlefield action and to be the most effective at killing aren’t in civilian hands.”

But most of all, Taber and Nofziger want to see an open dialogue in which students are included.

“I want to see state and federal legislators reaching out to students to listen to our concerns,” Taber said. “To have our representatives take action on this and do their job of representing the public. I want to see them stand up for compromise and common sense legislation that stretches beyond party lines.”

“I do not speak for everybody who walked out, but personally I would like to see our elected officials acknowledge that the current gun laws in our country are simply not effective and start taking steps towards actual legislative change,” Nofziger said. “Some of these changes could include the banning of bump stocks, limiting high capacity magazines, national permit-to-purchase (obtaining a permit, background checks, etc., before buying), and keeping firearms out of the hands of the seriously mentally ill.”

Additional opportunities for peaceful assembly are being organized on a national level. Although Mahomet-Seymour students have not planned action yet, they would like to participate.

On March 24, 2018, March For Our Lives has organized a march in Washington, D.C., to call for school safety and gun control. Mahomet-Seymour students are also talking about visiting Springfield on April 20, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

“I hope that this walkout has opened a dialogue for all students, regardless of their stance on gun control,” Nofziger said.  “This is a topic that we must continue to push if we want to see real changes being made and it is important that we continue having these conversations that the brave survivors of the Parkland shooting have brought to the nation’s attention.

“This walkout also served to inspire and empower students, to show them that we can do anything we set our minds to because we are the future. Our age has no bearing on the impact we can make on our community, our state, and even our country.”

The Mahomet Daily reached out to Mahomet-Seymour High School and District Administrators for comment. No comment was received.

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