Why I helped plan my Catholic school’s walkout against gun violence

Xavier High School students fill West 16th Street during the National School Walkout Day. (Credit: Shawna Gallagher Vega/Xavier High School)Xavier High School students fill West 16th Street during the National School Walkout Day. (Credit: Shawna Gallagher Vega/Xavier High School)

Ite, Inflammate Omnia: “Go Forth and Set the World on Fire.” St. Ignatius often ended letters to Jesuits on missions with this phrase. Xavier High School in New York City, like other Jesuit schools, has the primary objective of creating men and women prepared to illuminate a world often lost in darkness. But what exactly does it mean to “set the world on fire”? It is easy to think about the changes needed in our world, but it is much more difficult to transform those thoughts into action.

When the National School Walkout movement slowly began to ignite following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., I did not know whether this flame would reach the halls of Xavier. Curious, I reached out to students at other schools who were preparing to rally and protest; their emotions fluctuated between passion and trepidation. I felt much of the same—but mostly fear. I hoped to organize a similar event at Xavier, but I was worried about how our student body would approach a topic that we did not all agree on. Like at most schools, there are conservative and liberal students at Xavier, but a majority of the student body leans conservative.

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I was part of a group of student leaders who worked to decide how our school should respond, and this fear of division gave us much to think about. We went back and forth, trying to decide what was best for our school environment and what the administration would allow us to do.

The horror that struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 resonated deeply with me because students my age were murdered. I felt that the Xavier community needed to respond. Student leaders felt strongly that we had to find a way to memorialize those gunned down, to remind ourselves that even though sometimes it feels like our world has been swallowed by a coal-black cloud of horrific events, we must stand against evil. We hoped that the men of Xavier could shine a ray of light through the darkness.

After a great deal of discussion among student leaders and the administration, we settled on a plan that not only satisfied our needs and the school’s but emphasized a key component to a Jesuit education: a commitment to justice. We knew that we wanted the event to be largely silent, and for students to have a chance to express themselves. We wanted to offer orange ribbons as armbands as well as various posters that displayed anti-violence messages and gun violence statistics. We wanted to honor the victims and conclude with a prayer and a sign of unity.

Student leaders felt strongly that we had to find a way to memorialize those gunned down.

The days leading up to the walkout required a lot of preparation—from purchasing materials to hanging flyers around the school with the word “ENOUGH.” I had permission from the school to make an announcement on the P.A. system that students who wanted to participate could walk out of the building in silence, and those who chose not to could use the time to gather in designated areas. The response was mixed, and some students remarked, “The school is probably making us do this.” Although the school did not make anyone participate, the word was getting out, and students were beginning to discern whether or not they wanted to be a part of this event.

I woke up Wednesday morning anxious about how the day would unfold. My father, a retired lieutenant from the New York Police Department, saw how distressed I was and assured me, “There is always going to be division in the world, but today, no matter who shows up, Xavier will stand united.” He had faith that regardless of how divisive some issues may be, the friendships within the student body would hold the community together rather than tear them apart.

Xavier students
Approximately 500 students from Xavier High School participated in the National School Walkout Day. (Credit: Kaija DeWitt/Xavier High School)

On March 14, the sun made 16th Street glow in the crisp cold of morning. When the clock struck 10 a.m., student leaders grabbed the posters we had created with phrases like “The Time Is Now” and megaphones to lead the event. Time slowed down, and my mind starting racing. I felt a lead weight forming in my stomach, and I could hear my heart thumping. I was unsure about how many students would walk out.

But students slowly started coming out of the building, and within minutes a wave of navy blue sweaters flooded out the door. My fears began to dissipate, and I thought of my father’s words, “Xavier will stand united.” Faculty, staff and students gathered on the street in front of the school, and the victims’ names resounded through the neighborhood. This was followed by 17 minutes of silence, transforming the moment into something truly powerful.

When the clock struck 10 a.m., student leaders grabbed the posters we had created with phrases like “The Time Is Now.”

As a community, when we then locked arms to pray the Lord’s Prayer, pedestrians walking by stopped to stand with us. I felt a sense of power and grace. Although we did not do a head count, by our estimates 500 kids walked out and about the same number stayed inside.

Conversations about what happened continued throughout the day. Students praised the decision to reflect as a community and memorialize the victims rather than take a political stance. Students who did not attend were grateful that the emphasis was on remembrance and community.

The students and faculty who chose to stand together emphasized our desire to stand with other students around the country, including those from other Jesuit schools. To accomplish the mission proposed by St. Ignatius, we must find strength in unity in order to “set the world on fire.”

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J Cosgrove
7 months ago

Mr On,

I suggest you investigate both sides of the issue.

For example, how many lives does gun ownership save each year? Hard to prove a negative but there is information. It is a lot.

Why do almost 60% of the population believe gun ownership increases safety. Google "Poll: 58 percent say gun ownership increases safety NBC"

Look at what Virginia legislator said about guns and the reaction of other side. Do you approve of other side's reaction? Since we cannot publish links here just google. "VA Lawmaker’s MEGA Viral Speech On Gun Control Causes Dems To Run Out Of Room"

There was a report on what was learned from Columbine. One of the main conclusions was similar incidents could be prevented by identifying likely people to commit such atrocities and this was the main reason there were so few similar incidents. Probably the most egregious example of a likely candidate to use a gun in a school since Columbine was Nikolas Cruz and information about him was suppressed.

Gun ownership has increased dramatically in the last 30 years and violent crime has gone down equally dramatically. Little of the violent crime today is committed by legal gun owners. Mass shooting events are rare. Overwhelming data supports that and nearly all take place in gun free zones. What is not rare is the biased press coverage after such an event.

The marches/walkout are being funded by liberal political interests. They have no interest in saving lives but only want the political power they hope their manipulation brings. This is all about political power.

My reason for supporting gun ownership is one of history. Removing guns is first step in suppressing a population by a onerous government. We just had an example of a previous administration here in the United States spying and investigating members of the opposite political party. If this is not chilling, I am not sure what is. By the way it was the political party that was doing the internal spying and investigating that is trying to confiscate guns.

I personally would never own a gun but support people with the right background and temperament to do so. We just had the incident in Parkland Florida where information about an individual who should never had been near a gun was suppressed for political correctness reasons.

Maybe all this is what you and your classmates should be protesting and debating? The key thing is keeping emotions out of any decision and rely on reason.

I wrote a paper in graduate school on how easy it was to change someone's attitude with the proper visual. The written facts and rationale were the same, just a different visual. So be careful of the rhetoric and visuals. They will often overcome good solid rationale.

Stanley Kopacz
7 months ago

The main reason for the second amendment was to make sure the white populace was armed and able to suppress slaves. If you're going to dehumanize a whole population of slaves, you're going to need firearms. It has nothing to do with freedom. Keep going, young people and don't let the grumblings of the dried-up old white guys dissuade you. Their donezipil dosages need to be increased.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

Huh, you would think that since the writers of the Constitution were comfortable with describing the worth of black people relative to whites that they would have equally been comfortable writing an amendment that expressly limited the right to arms to white people.

I love the imagination of those who think that white people are so evil, notwithstanding the civilization, progress and innovation that they are nearly solely responsible for.

Stanley Kopacz
7 months ago

Poor widdle white snowflake.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

.

J Cosgrove
7 months ago

The main reason for the second amendment was to make sure the white populace was armed and able to suppress slaves.

It has nothing to do with freedom

This is nonsense. It had everything to do with freedom. The main reason was that the colonies were a nation of small farmers and these farmers had enemies on all sides. There were the French, British, Indians and the Spanish all opposed to the colonies. The French, British and Spanish were "white" guys. It had nothing to do with slaves as slavery had been eliminated in the northern colonies before the Revolutionary War. And how many "white" guys died to free the slaves?

If you want to understand the heart of the United States look at the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. The most important individuals in that boat was not Washington, though he was very important, but the people doing the rowing and fighting. They were small farmers and they became the heart of the United States for the next 125 years. They all owned guns.

Stanley Kopacz
7 months ago

There were all kinds of compromises the north made with the south to enter into the union. The senate and the electoral college were among them. Slaves counted for 3/5 of a person in establishing electoral representation. They had to kiss the behinds of the southern states to establish a constitution. Nothing to do with freedom. Just profit. As for your love and adulation for small farmers, it's all about big agribusiness now.

J Cosgrove
7 months ago

Thank you for agreeing with me. Everything you said was a non-sequitur or an ad hominem. Each is tantamount to agreeing.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

As adults, our duty is to protect our children, not use them as political tools. Shame on the adults who organize these rallies that not only take advantage of the emotions and naivete of children, but teach children that the way to handle emotion is to find someone to blame for it and complain about it in the streets.

Making decisions on the basis of emotion is the number one problem with leftism. Human violence is as old as time; and whining about weapons, or even taking them away, is not going to stop people from killing one another. Protection, whether it is from the bully in the playground or the shooter in the halls, is what needs to be taught. Teaching whining and disarmament just creates sitting ducks for the perpetrators.

Stanley Kopacz
7 months ago

The children are doing it themselves. They're tired of getting shot. It's as simple as that. You wouldn't mount loaded weapons on the walls of a mental asylum (or maybe you would). After 38 years of rabid neoliberalism, this whole country is a stressed out mental asylum. We don't need millions of semi-automatic rifles.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

These rallies are all funded by leftists groups, such as the group that organized the women's marches and their leftist partners: https://www.womensmarch.com/partners/

Teenagers don't even want a job to make the money required to organize a national march, nor do most of them have the attention span to even do their homework.

Kaija DeWItt
7 months ago

We're so proud of Devin and the work of all of the students who helped organized the walk out at Xavier. Devin is a deeply thoughtful young man who leads his classmates in so many areas of the school - including as a retreat leader.

I'm so bored of adults attempting to "correct" young people when they advocate for themselves. You had your moment. Our students will continue to learn, reflect, speak out, and change a world in great need of some healing and righteous butt-kicking.

Way to go, Devin! When you graduate in June, we'll be so proud to send you out into the world as one of ours. Continue to go forth and set the world on fire!

Mike Theman
7 months ago

First, the kids aren't doing this: they are pawns of a well-financed anti-gun lobby. Second, why would you want naive children to advocate for themselves (by whining in the streets) when they don't have a clue as to the complexity of the issue at hand and the nonsense of their proposed solutions? Answer: Because YOU are as naive as they are.

Kaija DeWItt
7 months ago

First, Mike, the kids are doing it. I was/am there. Second, if you think they’re naive then you must not spend much time with young adults who are committed to these things.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

What I meant by "doing it" is organizing and financing it.
As for naivete, I have three teenage daughters, ages 19, 17 and 14. Exceptionally bright young ladies (two attending prestigious, private universities), well-versed in many things political addressed by the leftist teachers in school, but lacking in real word experience and opposing-opinion teaching to understand that "make guns illegal" is not a reasonable nor practicable solution. In essence, they are protesting against innocent people getting killed. It's like those activists that tout that they're for for clean water. Really? I hate clean water.

I respect and celebrate the idealism of our youth, but I respect the wisdom of age and experience, more. This coming from a former leftist, idealist youth who is now a rounded-educated participant in the adult world with real life experience away from the protection of his parents and college utopian environment.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

.

Edward Graff
7 months ago

So many commenters here from the proud gun "culture of death." Remarkable.

Bravo to Xavier's students. This is an authentic movement of and for young people. Aided by adults, certainly, but a real expression of the fear and helplessness brought on by adult indifference. When the "grownups" have prioritized and fetishized machine guns over dead kids, a moral rot stands revealed in this country that is going to take a generation of backbreaking work to tear out and destroy. The kids are strong enough for that job, so I would advise any who have gotten comfortable trusting their own failed life experience at the expense of young people to watch out. Your time, as the NRA is fond of saying, is running out.

Vincent Gaglione
7 months ago

RIGHT ON!

You'll forgive my remark, because it is not made as a pun, but it really conveys two points, first, that I am glad to see at least one Catholic school in the Archdiocese of New York participated in the memorials to the children who died at Parkland, and second, it affirms the initiator of the Xavier protest.

Those who would criticize you are ideologues whose moral judgments on the issue of common-sense gun regulations are clouded by misplaced political zeal, if not outright lack of common sense.

J Cosgrove
7 months ago

Those who would criticize you are ideologues whose moral judgments on the issue of common-sense gun regulations are clouded by misplaced political zeal, if not outright lack of common sense.

Actually it is just the opposite. Everything you say applies to those who support the Democratic Party. Freud had a name for this, it is called "projection."

In a straight up debate you would get hammered. That is why all the arguments on one side are emotional. Your constant use of ad hominems is an admission that your arguments are not rationally based.

Douglas Fang
7 months ago

It is so pathetic and shameful to see the so-called Adult Catholics that act so cowardly in the face of the NRA and the gun lobby. No wonder why the young people are increasingly becoming the “Nones” as they see that these Catholic adults do NOTHING to help their cause. Worse, they even attack their efforts. There is nothing more ridiculous in modern society – blaming the kids for the coward and stupidity of the adults!

This debate is not about taking away the gun, any type of gun! This debate is about sensible and rational gun control, especially for assault type guns that can be used for mass killing. Saying otherwise is a complete and blatant lie. Period.

The NRA is not fighting for the second amendment or for responsible gun owners. The NRA is a LOBBY FOR THE GUN MANUFACTURERS and their clients want to sell high ticket-price, high margin assault weapons. So they twist the minds of Americans and corrupt the political system to conflate responsible gun ownership with a free-for-all of unchecked violence.

Douglas Fang
7 months ago

This is something shared by Josh Brown from TheReformedBroker (I follow him closely for his wise investment advice as any sane capitalist...)

“I’m really proud to live in a country like this, where people can come out and stand up for themselves.
I’m also in awe of some of the young people who’ve been speaking out about their rights not to get shot in school or movie theaters or walking down the street. They have complete command of the issues, statistics, and laws surrounding the topic, they speak with poise and confidence in a way I could never have when I was in my teens.
And then there’s this girl – eleven years old, the same age as my daughter. I’m just blown away by this speech. And it makes me feel good about what the next generation is going to do for our country” – just look on YouTube for “Naomi Wadler speech”

This makes the comment from the hardcore Catholic former presidential candidate Rick Santorum “Kids Should Learn CPR Instead Of Rallying For Gun Laws” looks absolutely ridiculous and laughable! Heaven Helps Us!

Kelly May
7 months ago

I can't stress how important it is that teachers and professors collaborate with the youth and talk to them about there topics. http://australia-opening-times.com/

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