For 17 minutes at Independence High School, there was silence.
More than 300 students quietly rose from their seats at 10 a.m., left their classrooms, and marched to the outskirts of the circular quad to stand in silence.
Nobody spoke. None were on their cellphones. By the end of the tribute, a girl had burst into tears, eye liner streaming from her face.
“This is all B.S.,” she wailed, calling out the national rallying cry as she stood before a pile of rosaries students had, one-by-one, brought to the center of the quad and set atop a No. 17 football jersey.
It was a powerful, solemn and respectful show of solidarity as students across the nation honored the 17 children and adults who were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. one month ago Wednesday.
Students from all 18 Kern High School District campuses, and its Regional Occupational Center, took part, KHSD spokeswoman Lisa Krch said. All were peaceful.
Students at Independence High, a 2,100-student school in southwest Bakersfield, offered few policy solutions or demands for tightened firearm laws — that wasn’t the focus of the demonstration, according to Faith Hernandez, a sophomore who organized the event. The focus, she said, was to pay respect to those lost.
“It took a lot to not cry,” Hernandez said, reflecting on the moment of silence. “I felt really happy that so many people decided to join, and I felt sad for the victims, and thankful that we’re able to be a part of something big.”
They didn’t have to say anything to be heard.
School administrators were unsure what to expect ahead of the event. They told teachers to expect a walk-out and that standard attendance rules would still apply for those not in class. If students wanted to walk off campus, administrators planned to open the gates for them, Independence High Assistant Principal Kelly Hardin said.
“We’re not going to tell the students not to walk out of class,” Hardin said.
As she stared across an open campus minutes before 10 a.m., she expressed some concern. Do the students planning to walk-out know why they’re demonstrating? Or is this an excuse to get out of class?
By the end of the solemn, at times tear-wrenching 17-minute event, Hardin was assured that every one of her students knew the gravity of the situation. They wanted change.
“This is for all the victims in Florida,” sophomore Vianna Valadez said as the 17th minute approached. She held a sign over her head during the event that read “this is B.S.” Another teen hoisted one up that read, “stop killing children.”
After the moment of silence, the group came together to the center of the quad. They chanted: “things need to change,” and “this is B.S.,” then Valadez encouraged students to speak their mind.
“We’re kids, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions that matter,” she told them.
The gathering of hundreds of kids, Valadez said, could also serve as a first step toward starting a conversation about bullying, and stymying a culture where kids aren’t standing up for one another. Again and again, students blamed bullying Wednesday as a factor in pushing at-risk students over the edge and potentially sparking school shootings.
“All these people here finally see what’s going on, and all the people who came to it finally understand how important this is,” Valadez said. “I think that it will change, and it will take some time, but eventually society will change and people will stop bullying others.”
That kind of culture shift, however, is a long-term goal, Hernandez said. First, rules need to be set in place to make it harder for kids to get a hold of firearms, she said.
The majority of students began heading back to class after the moment of silence, but sophomore Malorie Meyer remained.
She joined hands with a couple of other students and began to pray. As kids looked back, they joined in and the circle grew as she spoke to the Lord.
“I prayed for the kids in heaven to be safe and for them to be able to forgive the shooter,” Meyer said. “For the world to change and be a safer place for everybody.”