Thirty-five Hillsboro High School students joined in spirit with students from an estimated 3,000 high schools across the country who walked out of their classrooms Wednesday, March 14, to remember the 17 victims from Parkland, Fla., who died at the hands of a fellow student.
At 10 a.m., the Hillsboro students walked out the east doors of the school and into a bone-chilling east wind. They stood silently in the parking area to reflect on the loss of each student and faculty member who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Senior Shelby Johnson initiated the opportunity for reflection and solidarity.
“When the shooting happened in Florida I was appalled—I couldn’t believe another mass shooting of that magnitude happened once again,” Johnson said. “I followed the student activists from Stoneman Douglas as they went on their journey to end the selling of certain guns and I was in awe.”
She added, “All our lives I’ve been told to stand up for what we believe in—and kids my own age were doing exactly that. I started looking more into their social media and found the protests they were planning and wanted to extend support to them all the way from small-town Kansas.”
Johnson created an Instagram account (@hhs.forchange) to get the word out and post updates.
At the same time, she had reservations about organizing the event because students were concerned they might be punished for walking out of class.
But after she overheard Principal Clint Corby speaking with a teacher about the prospect, she said, “I figured the best way to not get in trouble would be just to ask.”
To her relief, Corby said students would not be penalized if they chose to participate, adding that if an entire class left, then the teacher would go with them. But if one student stayed, the teacher would stay in the classroom.
Her principal’s encouragement didn’t mean she didn’t encounter resistance.
“I know a quite a few students weren’t really open to the idea,” she said. “I think they thought this was just about protesting guns, but it really wasn’t. I’ve been told that I’m ‘not American’ and everyone who walked out was not American as well.”
Johnson said she wished the walk-out had been a school-wide event.
“The students who lost their lives were people just like me and my classmates,” she said. “Kids who could’ve gone on to discover new things, become great people and change the world.”
At the same time, she was pleased by the number of her fellow students who joined the walk-out.
“I figured maybe only 10-20 people would make it out, but I ran out of little leaflets before I could get to everyone,” she said. “It was really nice to see everyone out there and actively participating.”
After all 17 victims were remembered with a minute of silence, the students walked back into the building. Each received a handout prepared by their principal, titled, “School Safety: A Shared Responsibility.”
Corby said when students returned to class he wanted to challenge them to consider what they could do to make a difference in reaching out to others.
“My big thing is, now what?” Corby said. “What are you going to change? What are we going to do to make sure people are connected?”
Johnson said she hopes that coverage of the event will make a broader impact.
“I’m hoping this will reach some of our senators and maybe even local government,” she said. “I want them to think carefully about what is happening and know that their decisions are costing children their lives.”
She added, “I know a lot of people think we won’t make a difference because we’re such a small school, but I know Hesston did something similar today and so did Newton.
“Maybe, just maybe, all of our voices combined will be enough.”