Stuck in a Hard Corner: Back to School Should be Exciting, Not Terrifying

Amy-Grace Shapiro, Online-Co-Editor-in-Chief

My first day of junior year was similar to the rest of my 650-student class’, full of the typical back-to-school jitters  — which friends were in my classes, if I would like my teachers and who I would sit with at lunch. But, this year was more than that. This year, I started school fearing the moment when it would be my turn to huddle in the hard corner with my classmates, the imminent fear of a school shooter hanging over my head. The question was no longer if, but when would I be next? 

School shootings in America have become more than just repeated headlines, where kindergartners look for the best hiding spot in their brightly-decorated classrooms to best escape the “bad guy.” On the last day of school in June, I was excited, sure. But more than anything, I was relieved. Relieved that I made it through another school year. One more year of staying out of the news, staying out of the statistics. I was able to survive the battlefields that schools nationwide have turned into, but other students, some even younger than I, were not lucky enough to say the same. 

Last May, while I spent my time in school marking the end of AP exam season, 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed in their classrooms in Uvalde, Texas. 

One singular hour. At 11:33 a.m., the shooter entered Robb Elementary School and murdered 19 innocent third graders and their two teachers. When police arrived at 11:35 a.m., what was their solution? How did they fulfill their oath to “protect and serve” our nation’s most vulnerable? Law enforcement proceed to lock a deranged gunman with an automatic killing machine inside the elementary school classroom. Over the next hour, he murdered every single soul inside. Over 19 idle police officers stood aside, watching the second worst school shooting in history take place.

When police finally entered room 111, every single child and teacher in that room had perished: a future lawyer inspired by the judicial appointment of Miami Palmetto Senior High School’s very own Ketanji Brown Jackson. A 10-year-old with a Mickey Mouse backpack excited about his trip to Disney World over Memorial Day weekend. A child that had dreams of becoming a future police officer because, unlike the cowardly cops that failed to protect him and his classmates, he had dreams of protecting others. 

19 parents who can no longer take first day of school photos. Despite the fact that my parents got to take theirs this year, will they get to next year? Layla Salazar’s parents will not get to, Xavier Lopez’s parents will not get to and neither will Jackie Cazares’ parents. The hundreds of innocent children that have fallen victim to at least 188 recorded gun-related incidents can no longer smile for their parent’s flashing camera before their first day of school.

I am not just afraid for myself, but also for my classmates and my teachers. Since when did a teacher’s job description go from creating an environment that supports individual and collaborative learning, encourages positive social interaction and active engagement in education turn to the only shield from rounds of ammunition? I also fear for the lives of my siblings. My younger sister is in middle school and my older brother is only one school year ahead of me, often right across the hall from my classrooms. 

Despite the continuous cycle of threats and mass shootings across the nation, the only thing politicians seem to have mastered are their social media posts offering grieving families “thoughts and prayers.” Frankly, I am sick and tired of politicians offering “thoughts and prayers” after every mass shooting while simultaneously refusing to take the necessary actions to end gun violence. If anyone had a serious commitment to “thoughts and prayers,” maybe the U.S. would not be ranked the highest in school shootings worldwide. If politicians’ sentiments of “thought” had any ounce of sincerity, they would have sympathized with the parents and the loss of innocent lives, they would take action to devise necessary solutions and safeguards. In every instance that a politician urges the “thoughts and prayers” line, they never give victims any kind of meaningful thought, discourse or discussion on what they pondered during the time families spent planning funerals for their grade-schoolers.

Hours after Uvalde, I watched online as Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut gave a speech on the Senate floor, begging his fellow lawmakers to enact gun control legislation. “Why are you here,” he asked his colleagues, “if not to solve a problem as existential as this?” It was as powerful a speech as the one delivered by President Joe Biden to the nation later that same day. Still, I do not believe that our elected leaders are going to do anything meaningful regarding the mass murders that take place seemingly everywhere, all the time. Our state leaders should pass gun control legislation and hold that very power to act today.

The month of September is when most remember the attacks of 9/11. As a 16-year-old, only three months shy of my 17 birthday, my generation is not largely plagued by that trauma. At 16, I do not know the terrors of past generations; many of whom have lost parents, grandparents and loved ones to 9/11. I know I can never understand this pain. After all, I only learned about the terrorist attacks later in school, but when parents and teachers describe that day, they talk about how it was a horrific wake-up call — a day when innocence was broken and Americans’ sense of safety was forever shaken. I might not have been alive for 9/11, but as a member of the “mass-shooting generation,” I now recognize that feeling well. 

Our country’s refusal to enact gun-control measures of any kind today and every day is killing our children. When I think about walking into school every day, I hold the same fear as every other American student: that I could be the next child texting my mother under the “safety” of my desk at any moment. I fear that my mother will be the next parent to wait outside a community center or police station to learn how many bullets I took while I was analyzing a rhetorical situation or completing a timed writing.

321 people are shot every day in the U.S., and with guns now being the leading cause of death in our children, America’s 120.5 to 100 gun-to-resident ratio is to blame. With state legislators more focused on bathroom bills, abortion and “voter fraud” than on gun safety, the only thing standing between me and gun violence is a tactful culture war that continues to grapple the attention of a nation longer than a story of a child’s cold-blooded murder.

If you see something, say something. Call Anthony Rodriguez. Call Annette Taddeo. Call Carlos Gimenez. Call Marco Rubio. Call Rick Scott. If you do not know any of the names I just listed — you have a lot to learn before you place your ballot this November. Take these coming weeks to begin your journey of education on the people, institutions and government that represent and work for us. Begin to understand how elections affect our daily lives and, whether we live or die while in a classroom. We will be the generation that ends school shootings. It is up to us to ensure that.