Guest: The Parkland shooting made it clear: the youth will be the leaders of change

This piece reflects the views of Miguel Perez, and not those of Emerald Media Group. The piece is part of a series of op-eds from Peter Laufer’s Reporting I class at the SOJC. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

Growing up in Springfield, Oregon, I heard countless stories of the shooting that occurred at Thurston High School in May 1998. Since my days at Mt. Vernon Elementary School, it seemed that every year, one way or another, my peers and I would find a reason to converse about the shooting. But the topic always made me uncomfortable. I avoided talking about Thurston, because I could not comprehend the idea that a human being could do something so vile. As a child through my junior year of high school, I genuinely believed that the goodness in the world outweighed the evil.

In spring 2013, the year I graduated from Springfield High School, I was awarded the Bill and Faith Kinkel Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to college-bound high school students who are enrolled in foreign language classes in the Eugene/Springfield area. It was created to honor the parents of the Thurston shooter whom he murdered the night before the shooting. I knew exactly what those two names represented. Though I did not know Bill and Faith personally, I felt a tinge of guilt for taking too much of a passive stance to the issues of the world around me.

During my senior year of high school, I became more aware of the traumas that affected the world around me. It began with the Sandy Hook shooting of November 2012. The thought of such horrific acts aimed at young children weighed on my soul. This was also the time that I became aware of the raging gun debate in America. I knew something needed to be done – I was tired of simply debating the issue. The problem was, I had not yet fully formed my own opinions on guns. I understood their purpose as tools, but at best, a gun could be only considered a necessary evil. My acceptance of guns did not mean I wanted one anywhere near me. I agreed with statements like, “it’s a people problem, not a gun problem.” However, it begged the question – why make it easier for people?

Now, after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, we are faced with the same question. What do we do now? I have read countless headlines that only dispersed the blame and created more niche debates. This only allowed the world to continue to debate and spread the blame but never led to action. The way the survivors of the Parkland shooting reacted to this national attention is impressive. They are fed up with the back-and-forth debating and are taking action. They are part of a generation that is constantly overlooked by the older ones. They are called self-centered because they are active on social media. Their thoughts and opinions are cast aside because they are considered too young to have any sort of recognition. But they have risen to the occasion, and their voices are being heard.

While I do not know if their activism will lead to any change, or even the “right” kind of change, I am glad they are standing up and taking action. We have spent too much time debating and going back and forth, and this has led us nowhere. Though I may only be a few years older than these young activists, as a teenager, I never had the courage to stand up in the way they have done. I am certainly inspired by their actions. Because of the Bill and Faith Kinkel Memorial Scholarship I received, I have always felt a chip on my shoulder to do more. Now as an adult who will soon have a degree in journalism, I am in a position to make my voice heard as well. They say youth are the future. The future looks bright if they can continue to fight for what they believe in.

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