By Richard Taylor
“We are a generation that can change the world. As a student, I want to make sure that happens,” Ocracoke seventh-grader Katie Kinnion said shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, as dozens of Dolphins joined hundreds of thousands of their counterparts across the nation in a protest against gun violence.
This student-led demonstration day took place nearly 19 years after the first such school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. Since then, many such shootings have occurred across the nation, both in schools and elsewhere, most recently on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida.
Some 51 middle and high school students, parents and staff gathered in the Ocracoke School gym for the event.
After Kinnion spoke, 17 students came forward to each read a name of the 14 students and three staff killed in Parkland. Then, an eerie 17-minute silence fell over the normally noisy Ocracoke School gym as everyone in attendance was quiet with their thoughts.
During the observance, several middle-school students stood at mid-court, each holding a hand-lettered poster. Some read: “Protect kids, not guns,” “Our lives are more important than your guns,” and “School is for learning, not lockdowns.”
Principal Leslie Cole told the assembly that this incident had really affected students here as well as across the nation.
“I want to applaud our own students for coming up and speaking up the way they did,” she said. “One of the great things about this movement is getting the students involved. This is a great generation, and you need to know that. Job well done, students.”
Some principals across the nation did not have the same supportive attitude, marking students absent for walking out.
While students in many school across North Carolina also held walkouts, Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted his support.
Cole said the walkout was the students’ idea, though not all of the 173 students in the school participated. Students in third through fifth grades discussed the issues in their classrooms.
“It’s a heavy topic, a delicate situation,” she said.
Upon leaving the gym, one parent was heard saying, “Seventeen! What would that do to us here?”
Hyde County School Superintendent Dr. Randolph Latimore, who had been on the island to meet with Cole, encouraged students to make their voices heard.
“This was a great lesson in civic responsibility,” he said while stopping at Gaffers to order food before catching the ferry. “We absolutely support what the students are doing. We’re teaching children how to become responsible citizens, to share their concerns in a peaceful and constructive manner and to let their opinions be known.”
Lattimore said the Mattamuskeet campus held a similar walkout.
“I think the school system would fall short if it did not embrace teaching children to exercise this freedom we have,” he said.
The Ocracoke School Beta Club is making plans to attend a national march on March 24 in Washington, D.C., and will hold a bake sale at noon Saturday at the Variety Store to raise funds for the trip.
“Í can’t think of a better field trip than for these kids to go (to D.C.) for that march,” said former Ocracoke Special Ed teacher Karen Lovejoy.
Cole said an observance might take place that day on Ocracoke.
“This will be another chance for you to come out and make your voice heard,” she told the gathering.
Originally, the walkout was planned for in front of the flagpole, but a light rain prompted a move into the gym. By 10 a.m., the sun came out and the rain had stopped.
As she proceeded down the breezeway back to her office, a few white flakes floated down on the pathway.
Cole smiled and quipped, “Look, snowflakes from heaven.”