March for Our Lives: D’Youville to D.C.
Buffalo, New York - March 26, 2018 - Saturday, March 24, 2018 is a date that a passionate bus load of D’Youville students and faculty members won’t soon forget. After pulling out of Buffalo just after midnight and completing the nearly seven-hour trip to our nation’s capital, the cohort arrived for the March for Our Lives event to protest the nation’s surge of gun violence in schools.
In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student have begun to make their voices heard. Their message, “Never Again,” has begun ringing in the ears and on the social media timelines of their peers, parents, and politicians.
While the event was intended to lead to major legislation this upcoming year, it’s the long-term effect on which these students are most focused. Passing new legislation is a goal, but students also want to make it clear that if politicians refuse to listen, young voters will look for new leaders who will listen in the coming mid-term elections.
One of the faculty advisors for the D’Youville trip to Washington D.C., Laura Hechtel, PhD, an associate professor of biology, says she wanted the students to experience an event vital to the mission of D’Youville.
“I wanted to do something that will help the students of D’Youville know they too can be leaders and have an impact and be able to give support,” she said. "It was inspiring to see so many young people, ranging in ages from 11 to 18 speaking so passionately. Over and over again, these students emphasized the need to get young people to register to vote and vote out of office the representatives and senators who are backed by the NRA. Each of these speakers in some way, was trying to make a difference - some through local activism by creating organizations to provide more opportunities for the young people of their community or simply speaking out across the nation."
Though Buffalo was hosting a sibling march on the same day, Hechtel wanted D’Youville students to experience something they wouldn’t have been able to here or at any of the other 800-plus marches nation-wide. Hechtel herself participated in the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C.
“I hope, through seeing what a difference young people can make, that our students will also become active in any cause they feel is important. So it wasn’t just about gun control. It was important for our students to see that they can make a difference: they can make this a better community, a better country. It just takes passion, fortitude, and perseverance," she added.
Needing funding for travel and lodging, D’Youville President Lorrie Clemo, PhD, acted, eager to provide the support for the students who also received a donation from the D’Youville chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
“We’re very proud of our students who show both passion and leadership in civic engagement,” said Clemo. “Showing their support for those affected in Florida and elsewhere with thousands of others from across the nation is such a proud moment that they can reflect on.”
March for Our Lives left a profound impact on the students that trekked to Washington D.C. this past weekend.
Summer Den Hease ’19, a biology and pre-med major, spoke on how moving it was to hear from some of the Stoneman Douglas students:
“It was a life-changing experience for me to be with so many peers, parents, and students from all over the country. Our group in Washington D.C. even had students from Ireland come march in solidarity. One moment that hit me the hardest was when Zion Kelly came out and spoke about how his twin brother was killed blocks from home. Losing someone that you shared everything with is something I cannot fathom. Gun violence knows no sexual orientation, culture, religion, race, or age — it takes the lives of all.”
Adeeb Tawakali ’21, a nursing major, felt that traveling to Washington D.C. was needed to inspire change. “I went to the March because gun control is a controversial topic in America. I wanted to be a part of a movement that will change America for the better.”
Fellow nursing major Emma Macoretta ’21 was thankful for the opportunity to attend:
“The reason I went to the March for Our Lives protest is because I believe that gun reform will make this country a safer place. I went to the march to be a voice for the people that have been affected by gun violence. Being able to attend the protest in D.C. meant a lot to me and was overall a great experience. I am thankful for the resources that were provided so that we were able to be part of a historic moment in our lifetime.”
John Whitecar ’20, also a biology major, reflected on how important activism is in his life.
“In 2016, I canvassed and fundraised with the Bernie Sanders campaign. In 2017, I became a committee member of the local Democratic party, and, in 2018, I became a dues-paying member of the Buffalo chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, a group that is one of the fastest growing non-profit and non-partisan activist organizations in the country. Recently there has been one issue that has been deeply troubling to me and many other activists: gun violence.
“With D’Youville’s recent involvement in the Washington D.C. March for Our Lives, my fellow students, professors and I were provided an unforgettable opportunity to stand in solidarity with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. To my colleagues and I, regular mass shootings and acts of gun violence have felt like threats to our education and way of life for a long while. We sincerely hope that acts of violence like the ones that have recently occurred in the communities of Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and Parkland never occur again.
“We are thankful for the opportunity that was provided to us to peacefully demonstrate by Dr. Clemo, Kathleen Anderson, and the D’Youville AAUP. We hope that our activism in the March for Our Lives will help create a safer community, campus, and America for all,” Whitecar said.
President-elect of the Student Government Association (SGA) Johnny Qiu ‘19 believes the march was just the beginning:
“Attending the march was truly an amazing experience, seeing bus after bus pull in full of students, teachers, parents, and fellow supporters was monumental. The reason I went to the march was because it was to make a stand for all the students at my college that were not able to go. It was not a political movement at all. Members of both parties were there. This was more of a march to speak out against gun violence and implementing stricter regulations on purchasing assault rifles.
“A bipartisan march has shown that this is beyond any political line, but that it was about making sure students are safe from unnecessary violence. Students should not have to worry about getting home safely. This should not be an issue in any student’s mind while they are being taught to become the next generation of leaders for the country.
“One of the most pivotal moments of the march to me, was when Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez came out and named all her classmates that had fallen during the shooting. As she stood there in silence, 3,620 seconds passed by and the crowd raised the peace sign as we all stood there with her. It may not seem like a long time, but 3,620 seconds was the amount of time it took to claim the lives of 17 members of our future generation.
“Change needs to happen and it needs to happen now because prayers are not enough anymore. If our legislators cannot see what the best course of action is for the students and the future generation of the country, it is time for us to enact that change now. Violence does not discriminate, it takes the lives of all. It does not look at the color of our skin, our religion, culture, or sexual orientation. A weapon of that magnitude can take any life at any given moment.
“The march was not a movement to take away the ability of people to own guns, we are proposing that certain restrictions be put in place so that [they] can stop claiming innocent lives.”
Since its inception, D’Youville has been an institution dedicated to enacting positive change, be it in healthcare or protecting the lives of students of all ages, through leadership and action. D'Youville teaches students to contribute to the world community by leading compassionate, productive, and responsible lives. The work of these students and faculty members is a shining example of how those foundations have an everyday, practical application.
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