“This is the beginning of what, I believe, can be an extremely powerful movement.” With these and other rousing words, Virginia Nault, a junior at the Sisters of Mercy’s St. Mary Academy – Bay View High School in Rhode Island, moved thousands of demonstrators at the Providence March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018. A transcript of Virginia’s remark is below; her speech can be watched on YouTube. The Sisters of Mercy are proud to see our students among those who are speaking out for change. We are committed to nonviolence and are pleased to amplify the voices of students like Virginia.
- For another high school perspective, see this summary and photo collection from Assumption High School theology teacher Angela Lincoln. Thirty one students from Assumption drove overnight from Louisville, Kentucky to Washington, D.C. to attend the march.
Good afternoon, everyone. I would first like to start by thanking every one of you for coming out today and showing your support for this movement. I would also like to thank Sophia [a march leader] for giving me the opportunity to be able to stand in front of you all and be able to speak from the perspective of a current high school student for whom this issue hits way too close to home. My name is Virginia Nault; I am 17 years old and a junior in high school.
I remember it like it was yesterday when the news about Sandy Hook [the 2012 school shooting in Connecticut] broke. I was still in elementary school, just like the 20 children killed that day. In the aftermath, I remember security measures heightened at my school. Main doors were locked, cameras installed, and whenever I had “front desk duty” while the secretary went to lunch, I was not allowed to open the door for anyone, even if I knew them. It was evident to me, even at 12 years old, that what had happened had shocked and scared the nation. That was over five years ago. That should have been enough. Those 20 children we lost that day should have been enough to spark a change so that it never happened again. The New York Times reports that since Sandy Hook, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. Clearly, Sandy Hook was not the end as it should have been.
Just a few weeks before the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, my school had an assembly to announce the implementation of a new “active shooter drill.” This new procedure would no longer involve shutting the doors, turning off the lights and huddling together in a corner in silence. With this new procedure, we would be taking an active response in barricading the doors, tying ropes or computer cords around door handles, putting our backpacks on our chests to act as shields, and grabbing the closest thing we could quickly throw – a stapler, scissors, a book, anything. I cannot explain to you how surreal it is to be sitting in Spanish class with my teacher and classmates brainstorming ideas on how quickly we think we could move bookcases instead of learning more about the preterite tense. It was even more surreal to have our first drill with this new procedure on February 15. One day after the shooting in Parkland, I was in physics class when the drill was announced, and all the students, including myself, immediately sprang into action to block the door, move tables and try to secure ourselves as best as we could. The only thing going through my head was disbelief at the fact that it had come to the point where these were the measures we were taking as a school to protect ourselves from an active shooter.
It is incomprehensible to me that up until the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School there had been no significant changes made in regards to gun violence or school shootings to lower the numbers of tragedies like Sandy Hook and the shooting in Parkland. Thankfully now we are seeing big businesses pledge to stop selling firearms, businesses cutting ties with the NRA and more and more people speaking out in support of students everywhere and calling for a safer future for everyone just like all of you here today. But that is not enough. This is the beginning of what, I believe, can be an extremely powerful movement. I hope to see a dramatic decrease in the number of mass shootings and reports of gun violence across America by the time I am ready to send my future children to school themselves. This will only happen if the mindset of America changes and our legislation changes with it. It is not enough to address that. This is an issue we must work together to implement a change.
Register to vote if you are eligible, and make your way to the polls this November. Write letters to your local representative, and let them know what you want to see done. Start conversations with friends, family members and colleagues. This might be a controversial subject, but a thoughtful discussion is destined to spark interest and change. And please, continue to show your support for this movement as long as it is an unresolved issue. We will always find our strength in numbers, and if we make enough noise, those in power will have no choice but to listen to us. Thank you so much for your time and your support. It means the world to know that so many of you are willing to stand up and speak out on behalf of all students in America and especially for those who are no longer able to speak for themselves. Thank you.