Hundreds of Superior High School students gathered in the gymnasium for 19 minutes Friday to raise awareness of gun violence at schools.
"This is not a pro- or anti-gun rally," said senior Joe Carter, who organized the event with Devon Sullivan-Pettit. "We are just bringing you guys here today so that we can get our message out and create awareness about gun violence."
He was prompted to hold the rally because of his six younger sisters. The point of the event was to make the school safer for everyone in this generation and those to come, Carter said.
"We are the youth," Sullivan-Pettit said. "When we come together, nothing can stop us."
They initially planned to hold an 18-minute rally in memory of the 18 school shootings that have taken place in the nation. That number jumped to 19 after news broke of Friday's fatal shooting at Central Michigan University.
"You don't think it can happen here, but it really can," Carter said. "So what we need to do is to come together and just be kinder to each and everybody here. It all starts with us as students."
Senior Al Swenson told the crowd that he has experienced the fear of being beat up, bullied and given death threats for being himself.
"I don't want anybody else to feel this kind of fear," Swenson said.
Carter asked students to submit ideas on how they can make SHS a safer place and what change they would like to see happen at the school.
For the last 11 minutes and 20 seconds, students sat in silence. A few held up signs — "Am I next?" "No More Silence, End Gun Violence," "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Following the rally, most of the participants returned to class.
"I'm very proud of the way the students handled themselves," said SHS Principal Greg Posewitz. "This was all their doing."
The entire event was student-driven, he said, and those who attended were respectful.
Superior Middle School students also voiced concerns about school safety during a walkout Wednesday afternoon. More than 200 students gathered in the community events parking lot.
"Most of the kids were out there for 17 minutes, I believe," said Principal Richard Flaherty. "One minute for each victim of the shooting in Florida recently."
Signs were held and students shared a moment of silence. Flaherty said most returned to classes, although about 40 students remained outside and continued to express their thoughts. School staff monitored the event to make sure they were safe in the parking lot.
Like at SHS, the middle school event was led entirely by students.
It was nice to see that the middle-schoolers felt they were part of something bigger, Flaherty said, but he hoped that the next time they expressed their views, they do so in a way that doesn't disrupt class.
District response to such protests was spelled out in a letter about school safety that District Administrator Janna Stevens sent to parents Feb. 23.
"As a district, we will neither encourage or discourage student walkouts, nor will we prevent students from participating or discipline them if they do," Stevens wrote.
This year's seniors were in sixth grade when they heard about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"My basketball team, we made snowflakes and sent them to Sandy Hook," said Alexis Jensen, a senior at the high school. "For our generation, it was the first big shooting."
Friday, the national total stood at 19.
Carter said before the event that even if 15 people showed up, it would be a success.
"I didn't think there would be this many people, but I'm just glad about the turnout," Carter said. "I felt like they really listened."
He said change is coming.
"No child, no parent needs to have that burden of being worried about whether or not their kid is safe coming to school," Carter said.