Any graduate of Northern Illinois University knows that February feeling. It always hits me when I see the date each morning on my iPhone. Feb. 10, Feb. 11, Feb. 12, Feb. 13... The days build up to an inevitable anniversary that I struggle with every year.
Feb. 14, 2008 is a day of unthinkable tragedy and loss. On the one day a year where we have fun with the sappiness and commercialization of love, it's become another marker of America's mass shooting epidemic. Five students were killed the day. Their lives ended when a man walked on the stage of an oceanography lecture with a guitar case filled with a shotgun and three handguns. Twenty-one others were injured but survived. I watched the FBI surround campus and shut down every road, trapping us in town for hours. The vibration from so many helicopters hovering nearby shook the walls of my apartment. Cell towers became so overwhelmed with calls that our phones stopped working and we couldn't communicate with our families. In an afternoon our school went a normal, mid-sized state university to a war zone with blood stained sidewalks.
When we went back to school 11 days after the shooting, I consoled my crying mother and promised her that the worst was over. There were new security measures in place and nothing would happen to me. She composed herself to make me feel better and got back in her car. I can't imagine what that drive home for her was like. Having to send your kid back to school knowing this time you were beyond fortunate, but the next phone call could be a much different one, is seldom mentioned when reporting on school shootings. Watching terror overwhelm my mom as she dropped me off in this surreal new world was an experience that has shaped who I am today.
Now Stoneman Douglas High School is experiencing a more magnified version of this all too common tragedy. Seventeen lives suddenly ended. Their hopes, their future, their potential all stolen with a weapon of war.
Two very different generations and schools share a tragic event exactly ten years apart.
Schools try to prepare for mass shootings in the moment, but what nobody can prepare you for is the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after. The bone crushing sadness and the feeling that nobody understands what this is like can be completely enveloping at times. Community support is like a miracle drug when you're lost in that sadness. Compassion from friends and family fills you with hope that for every act of senseless violence in the world, there are so many wonderful people out there ready to pick you up and save you from this nightmare.
As many similarities as there are between the two shootings, and all the others this country has gone through, I've seen one stark difference with Stoneman Douglas. This week I’ve seen the Parkland community do something completely unprecedented. They’ve stood up to a cowardice government and said ENOUGH. They've followed the money and pressured large corporations into dropping NRA partnerships. They challenged others to do the same and their following is growing exponentially. They’re fearlessness is inspiring and their determination to end this epidemic is unbounded. They are truly an unstoppable force.
After this week I wholeheartedly believe this will be the generation to end school shootings. They’re doing something mine could not. They've seen it happen too many times now and they're putting an end to it. Through expressions of love and leadership, they've kept fear from controlling their actions. They've proven that they’re not afraid of lies and slander. They've emerged from the shadows of empty thoughts and prayers and called out our elected officials for their failures. I’m so incredibly proud of the next generation of leaders and you should be too.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.