It was Valentine’s Day, and I was clutching (what remained of) a carnation I received from one of my friends that day. It was time for my daily Reddit check, just a casual scroll up and down the memes and funny stories on my feed.
But across the top of my Reddit feed was a bright orange banner proclaiming “Deadly School Shooting in Florida, Several Injured.”
I don’t think it fully registered in my mind what this meant. At this point, and in 2018 itself, I had (we all had) seen so many school shootings that I remember commenting nonchalantly to my friends on the bus around me, “Oh, there was another shooting.”
We continued our mundane conversation, probably something about how we couldn’t wait to go to college or complaining about the work we had gotten that day.
While we were talking, I tapped the banner and scrolled through the news story that was attached. I read about a Florida high school in Parkland being yet another victim of gun violence, how it was suspected a former student had come in with an assault rifle and shot up students and teachers, how many were injured but there was not enough information to say how many had been killed.
At the bottom of the article, there was an embedded map, showing Parkland as a town near the city of Ft. Lauderdale. And I remember commenting again, this time with some more alarm, “Hey, one of my friends lives right by there.”
But, as I had with any other shooting or any other act of violence, I accepted it as a breaking news story and moved on, rejoining the conversation of how unfair some random Calc test was or something equally quotidienne and irrelevant.
And to be completely honest with you, I would have left it then and there. I would have gone on my way, only as affected by the shooting as I have been by any other act of violence, which is to say, not much. In my memory, it would just be another piece of evidence for the slow and creeping descent into a world of violence and disorder.
I am not what someone would call “a social justice warrior.” Yes, I care about social issues and about fighting for our rights, but sometimes I wished I care more, sometimes I wished I would actually do something about it. But I never have - never stepped out to say something, never spoken out or done something. Largely because I never felt affected.
But it took me two days to make the connection.
That day, Valentine’s day, I saw on my friend’s Snapchat story that a post saying she was safe. Safe. Safe, safe, safe.
This word had so many implications. I had never realized that she was ever in danger, never even thought to ask if she was safe, never thought that I would have needed to.
Only minutes later, I saw posted on her story, something along the lines of, “Carmen Schentrup has still not checked in as safe. If anyone knows where she is, please let me or her family know.”
My thought process at this point was, “Oh my god, this must mean that she lives right near there, and she probably knows the students of Stoneman Douglas, the school that was affected.”
But I shelved it to the back of my mind and continued on my day, watching news networks report on the incident in the evening, still maintaining my usual sense of detachment.
I shelved it as I saw the names of the 17 victims being released at night, as I read “Carmen Schentrup” on that list. I still didn’t make the connection.
But it wasn’t until the day after, my friend’s 18th birthday, that I was going on her Facebook page to wish her a happy birthday (Sara, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I never did wish you that day - Happy Birthday! - thank you for being the strong person I am proud to call my friend), that I saw her Facebook post about the incident and of the vigil at Stoneman Douglas that day.
That was her high school.
And Carmen was her friend.
She didn’t just live near the area, she lived there. That was her high school.
And it was no longer something I could ignore. This was personal.
And then through my friend’s Snapchat and Facebook, I was inundated with silly snaps of Carmen, making funny faces and just acting like any other 16-year-old.
I didn’t even know her.
But I was so taken aback.
I couldn’t look at her memories without thinking, “What if that was me, what if my friend was posting snaps of me, remembering me, because I had been killed in a school shooting instead of Carmen.”
And that is the most powerful thing. As self-centered as it sounds, that could have easily been me. It could just as easily have been my school, my friends, ME. And that is all I could I think about.
There is only one degree of separation, one degree, between me and the innocent girl that lost her life that fateful day, a fate she did not deserve, a fate no one deserves.
And because you are reading this right now, and are hopefully being moved by my experience, you, yes YOU, are only two degrees away from losing your own life to gun violence.
Just this week, in sociology, we were talking about the “6 degrees of separation theory” - how we are connected with any other random person in the world through only 5 intermediaries, or 6 connections. And all I could think about was how everyone I knew was at most 2 degrees away from someone that lost their life that day.
In the weeks that followed the shooting, I saw my friend’s social media full with kind words for Carmen and for her family and I saw her showing an incredible amount of strength and compassion as she dealt with the repercussions of an event that no student, nowhere in the world, deserves to have to deal with.
And to Sara, every day I regret not being there for you more, not letting you know how much I am proud of you more, and how much you matter to me more.
And to Carmen, who would have turned 17 years old only one week after that tragic day and who deserved the chance to talk about graduating this summer or going to college next fall or the stupid mundane things we talk about all the time. The chance to live her life just like I am living mine. Like we all are living ours.
And to Scott, and Alaina, and Alyssa, and Martín, and Nicholas, and Aaron, and Jaime, and Chris, and Luke, and Cara, and Gina, and Joaquin, and Meadow, and Helena, and Alex, and Peter.
It’s been one month, but I can’t stop thinking about one of my own friends at my lunch table just not being there anymore or someone who sits next to me in class never coming back. And I can’t stop thinking about Carmen Schentrup and the unlikely way her and I are connected, even across 1208 miles.
But the 1207 words you have just read were not so you could feel sorry for me (I do not deserve it).
It was to show you that no matter how far away you think you are from these events, how much you think, “But they won’t ever happen to me,” that it can always happen to you. No one is safe until everyone in this country is safe.
It is not fair for parents to send their children off to school and have to worry if they will come back. It is not fair for classmates to wonder from one day to the next whether their lab partners will be there the next day. Or whether they themselves will be there the next day.
It is not fair.
Thank you to all of those that participated in their school’s walkouts today, thank you for acknowledging the problem.
But now is the time to fix it. It is up to us to produce the change, to instigate it, to see that it is carried out.
Register to vote. Please register. And more importantly, go out and vote. Regardless of the election, whether it is your local district representative or the next President of the United States, your voice matters. And you only have a voice if you vote.
Write to your local congressmen and assemblymen. Write a handwritten letter if you can, an email if you can. Anything and everything will make a difference.
Don’t let this be the time where you say to yourself “I’ll do it eventually, when I have more time.” No. You are reading this right now, which means you have time. There are no excuses. I’ve been caught in that trap for too long, the trap of, “Oh, I can’t actually change anything, I’ll just do it later, who am I to say anything anyway?”
But now is not the time to be thinking such things, now is the time to be doing things.
You can find a link to your local representative’s website through searching here.
If you live in New Jersey, you can find the email and street address of your local district representatives here.
For some guidance on writing the letters, go here.
The walkout is over. But the fight for change can never stop.
Thank you for joining me in making sure this ends now.
Enough. Is. Enough.