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National School Walkout: MSDA Takes a Stand

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On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, the students, faculty, and staff of Mount St. Dominic Academy promptly filed out of the building at 10:00 a.m. as part of the National School Walkout. The nationwide event was sponsored by the Women’s March Network and designated to be held a month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, which killed 17 students and teachers. The event, titled “#Enough” to reflect of social media’s role in the shooter’s radicalization, the constant condolence of politicians via Twitter, and the new nature of post-massacre activism, was organized in order to demonstrate students and educators’ outrage with the prevalence of gun violence in American schools and push for comprehensive gun reform. The framework for the Walkout was simple: participants should leave their classrooms at exactly 10:00 a.m. and remain outside for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim.

MSDA took this outline and used it to create a demonstration that was centered in faith without sacrificing the event’s political nature. Participants gathered outside in solemn lines as the Motherhouse bell rang 17 times, once for each victim. Once the final bell had tolled, participants silently walked around the school and entered the building via the Performing Arts Center for a prayer service led by selected seniors. After an introduction, a line of seventeen girls walked towards the back of the room, each receiving a red rose. Thus began the main focus of the prayer service: the remembrance of the victims. One by one, a senior stood at the pulpit and read the name of a victim, along with a short biography that highlighted their personality, family, likes, dreams, and death. Then, their name was repeated, and the entire assembly responded, “We will remember.” After this response, a student from the the line in the back silently walked to the front of the PAC and place that victim’s red rose into a white vase. This was done for each victim, and an atmosphere of complete silence and engagement was held for its entirety. The remembrance then concluded with a petition-style prayer for peace and safety.

The event closed with brief speeches from two religious leaders: Sister Fran Sullivan, Head of School, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark. Sister Fran thanked the students for their respect and reverence during the event and expressed her gratitude for their participation. She ended her speech with words of encouragement to the students to decide their own futures and choose peace for themselves and the world. She then introduced the final speaker: Cardinal Tobin. In a video filmed for all participating archdiocesan schools, the Cardinal praised students for their choice to join the national movement against gun violence in a prayerful, Catholic way. While he spoke of the necessity of prayer and reliance on God during times of fear and uncertainty, the Cardinal did not shy away from politics, explaining that “we can ban all of the guns in the world and never finally fully achieve peace without a commitment of our hearts…but we do need legal protections, and we have to ask questions about the type of firearms and their proliferation in our country today” (White). Students were finally dismissed from the PAC as Sister Lena Picillo, campus minister, instructed each to take a small red ribbon from the baskets outside the doors and pin it to their uniform as a sign of unending solidarity with the victims of school shootings.

Mount St. Dominic’s Walkout was held in coalition with countless schools on national, state, and even county levels. Local schools such as Verona High School and Montclair High School also participated in the event. Police were also an active force in these demonstrations, with the Caldwell Police Department sending officers to MSDA’s campus. The National School Walkout has been covered by major newspapers and news channels, even receiving acknowledgement from key politicians among the likes of Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer. The event will be followed by the March for Our Lives in Washington, D. C., on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Citations

White, Christopher. “Catholic Schools Add Prayer to School Walkout Day over Gun Violence.” Crux, 15 Mar. 2018, cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/03/14/catholic-schools-add-prayer-to-school-walkout-day-over-gun-violence/.

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National School Walkout: MSDA Takes a Stand