Drew Amstutz is a senior at Concordia Lutheran High School and the marketing intern at Ivy Tech’s Fort Wayne Campus.
As a high school senior, I’m often asked what my favorite memory of high school has been. Up until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t pinpoint a particular day, but after participating in the National High School Walkout, my mind has been made up.
On March 14, high school students across the nation decided to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes to commemorate the lives of the 17 students and teachers who died in the Marjory Stonewall Douglas High School shooting last month. Hearing about the planned walkout only a few days after the shooting, I knew that it was important for my school, Concordia Lutheran High School, to participate. The next day, I emailed the school administration about changes I wanted to see in my learning environment and called for a meeting to discuss the concerns of my peers and me. Because of my displayed passion for ending school violence, the administration let me lead the effort, and the long process of planning an assembly and walkout began.
Our day of awareness started in the auditorium with an assembly led by Captain Mitchell McKinney of the Fort Wayne Police Department. He spoke to us about the importance of being aware of our school environment and being a good friend to our peers, saying “Treat everyone like you would if it were your last day, or, better yet, theirs.” The student body took his words to heart, and I’ve already noticed a difference in the way that people are treated in the hallways through the little acts of kindness that we stressed in the assembly. For instance, students are much more apt to let their peer slip onto the stairwell in front of them or hold doors open behind them. The bond among our already close-knit student body is stronger than ever before, and I believe it is because of Captain McKinney.
After the assembly, students were given the choice to either walk out in protest of school violence or stay inside for a brief break from school. While planning the protest, I wasn’t sure how many students would choose to walk out. Our estimates said 50 to 60 percent, but in actuality, more than 80 percent of the student body went outside.
Some people have asked me about the most terrifying part of leading my school in a controversial protest. I usually laugh and tell them the hardest part was climbing the band tower before speaking. As part of my speech, I had to stand on a platform that was 20 feet high and use a microphone in order to be heard by the masses. This was far more terrifying to me than angering a few students and faculty members. In the words of civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, actions like ours on March 14 create “good trouble.”
While on the tower, I gave a brief speech to commemorate the lives of the fallen and to remind students to stay vigilant and aware in the classroom. I retold the story of the shooting from my own point of view and shared my connection to the shooting—a future college classmate, whom I had spoken to several times through an admitted-student group chat, said she had to barricade herself in a closet during the shooting. She texted the group about it only an hour or so after she escaped from the school building.
Besides sharing my own connection to the shooting, I also pointed out that the names of those who died in Parkland sounded a lot like the names of the students that were in our own classrooms. As I looked out into the crowd, I saw plenty of Carmens, Lukes, Alyssas, and Alexes who could have had the same fate of those who died in Parkland.
One of my favorite parts of the day was delivering a press conference to local media. The goal of the National Walkout was to gain awareness for violence in schools through exposure in the media. Sharing our message with the people of our community meant I was doing my part in the movement and making my own mark on Fort Wayne. You can view the WANE coverage of our walkout here and my interview with the Journal Gazette here.
Screenshots from WANE’s coverage. Click the photos to zoom.
I hope that by continuing to protest over the next few months, students across America will be able to finally break the stigma that our generation isn’t worth hearing. As I said in my speech, some people say that our generation is distracted and disconnected, but I believe that solemn days like these bring each of us together in ways never seen before.