It might appear gratuitous to be celebrating this graduation season; I don’t personally know anyone in Peninsula High School Class of 2018, but since I’ve been reading ‘The Outlook’, the school’s student newspaper, I’m feeling a vested interest.
It doesn’t take long to comprehend the intensity of today’s high school experience. Topping the list is stress.
Honestly, some of the Outlook articles made my heart ache while others had me cheering. I was struck by the many places I discovered a sense of resilience, tenacity, brilliance and hope in the graduates we’re sending out into the world from the Key Peninsula.
Some memorable events took place this year at Peninsula High School, which stands proudly upon a hill overlooking Henderson Bay and Burley Lagoon.
The air was cold with a biting wind the morning of March 14 despite late winter sun. School administrators wisely called for extra security measures on campus for the event allowing students to exercise the rights guaranteed them under the U.S. Constitution with our First Amendment right to free speech.
Roughly 350 PHS students took part in the walkout. Nearly 1,000 students remained in class during the scheduled 17 minutes of silence observed by students across the nation to honor the lives of 17 people fatally gunned down at Margery Douglas Stoneman Middle School in Florida the month before. Regardless of the decision made by each student, whether to remain in class or participate in the demonstration, everyone’s wishes and civil rights were honored and respected by the school district and Peninsula High School staff.
It was a beautiful civics lesson on parade. The ultimate takeaway? We need to talk. And listen. We can’t communicate very well if we’re always stuck in the extremes. If we can’t stop ourselves from shouting over other points of view, and embrace the act of listening instead, we aren’t likely to make much progress. That is a very frightening prospect.
Unlike the video clips I watched later of student walkouts across the country, the demonstration at PHS seemed much less a protest per se, but rather expressed a statement of solidarity with students and families across our country still mourning these senseless tragedies and demanding real answers over sympathy. School shootings have changed the way both students and teachers feel about coming to school.
The simplicity of that peaceful protest at PHS coupled with the sincerity of the student walkout moved me to tears. There was an absence of provocative signs; instead there was a simple and deeply pragmatic message, “We deserve to feel safe.”
PHS students rose above the oppositional political tactics of a nation deeply divided over ideological extremes that destroy the possibility of consideration, much less collaboration, needed to effect change. How did they do it? They stripped away divisive language and boiled it down to essentials, “We deserve to feel safe.” It bears repeating.
Outlook columnists and students Joseph Blanchard and Kendra Hunsaker took up this subject in their May 4 opinion piece, “Gun Violence in Schools: How Does Peninsula Feel?” Together they wrote, “There is not one solution to this problem, rather many different steps that can be taken to ensure the safety of all students… Without real communication, no real effective change can be implemented to protect us.” The pair of writers concluded, “… the most effective way to keep us safe is to talk about it.”
Our students want solutions and have learned the best course of action might be to reframe the question altogether. There may be many actions acting in concert that together form some kind of safety net. And that is where hope lies.
To our graduates of 2018: Congratulations for reaching this important milestone and for illuminating the path to the future. Celebrate your accomplishments but don’t slow the momentum and determination you used to get this far. Keep going, keep learning, reach out for help when you need it, but don’t sit life out on the couch. Do good work and be safe out there. A whole community stands behind you.