Speak Now by Columnist Maddie Raymond: Finally safe from getting shot in school 

  • Maddie Raymond FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/27/2022 11:58:09 AM
Modified: 5/27/2022 11:56:12 AM

Tomorrow, I will be done with high school. I will walk out the doors after fourth period ends to never come back, at least not as a student. After 12 years in the United States public education system, I am done, ready to leave for college and start my adult life. Tomorrow, after 12 years, my parents can breathe out a sigh of relief because I will finally be safe from getting shot in school.

I remember the day my mom told me about Sandy Hook. I was in third grade, and when she sat my brother and I down on the living room rug to tell us what happened, I took one look at her face and became convinced my dad died. My dad is still alive, but I learned that day that 20 kindergarteners — kids who were only a couple of years younger than me at the time — were not; they were shot dead by someone who had been given a gun when they shouldn’t have. And on Tuesday, May 24, in Uvalde, Texas, it happened again.

Since I first heard about Sandy Hook a decade ago, school shootings have always been at the back of my mind. That year, lockdown drills at school started to take a different meaning. Instead of just sitting quietly with the lights off, wondering what sort of wild animal or unwanted visitor had wandered in, we began crouching behind the teacher’s desk and squeezing into the cubby areas. We would pack ourselves together like sardines and wait in the dark until the police came in and told us we were safe. In middle school, my friend began picking up her water bottle to use as a weapon every time a lockdown was called, just in case. After it was over, we’d exchange stories of what we’d do if a shooter came in, whether that was picking up a baseball bat or just running right at them. It became a running joke, something we felt could never happen and happen tomorrow at the same time.

When I first heard about this shooting, I was numb. There have been so many in my lifetime, from my initial baptism by fire of Sandy Hook to Parkland and El Paso. My first instinct was to shut down; to not let my thoughts linger on the children who died in fear that I’d break down. I tossed and turned, wracked by anxiety and guilt before I finally let myself go and sobbed in front of the stove as I thought of the kids the same age as the sweet kids I taught how to ski last winter being shot. With only two days of school left, I should be celebrating my graduation, but now I’m reminded that I’m one of the lucky ones that got to make it out of American public school alive.

From soggy French fries to lengthy math lectures, my public school experience wasn’t exactly perfect all the time. But to make it through those lectures; to make it to the cafeteria and back and then do it again 180 times until the last day of school every year should be a given, not a privilege. Kids shouldn’t have to crouch in the dark, reminding their friends to stay quiet so the school shooter doesn’t go to them first. They shouldn’t have to scan their high school classmates, wondering which kid sitting in the back of the classroom could one day decide they’d had enough and pick up a gun to kill them all. We can’t solve the structural issues that push people to commit these shootings in a day, but we can make it harder for those people to grab a gun and cause so much violence.

So, this is my call for stricter gun control. I know we are privileged in our state of Massachusetts to require licenses for guns, but in states like Texas, where the shooting happened, no such laws are currently in place. We must rally ourselves to put the pressure on representatives to refuse the payouts from the NRA and other gun lobbyists that have prevented any meaningful gun control legislation from passing. From the summer of 2020 to the election season, we have seen before the impact of a powerful national movement on our lawmakers. It’s time to reaffirm our support for grassroots gun control movements like the March for Our Lives, whether that be through giving time or opening up our purses. As always, we can redistribute wealth to folks most directly impacted by this latest mass display of gun violence — GoFundMes for the victims of the Uvalde shooting and their communities abound.

By the time this article is released, I will be out of high school and out of harm’s way. Yet the young victims of the Uvalde shooting, the victims of Sandy Hook and Parkland and El Paso and Columbine and all the other public schools, this will never be the case. They will be forever school age, failed by the place that was supposed to be their safe haven. As my final year of high school comes to a close, I am reminded of the immense privilege I have in getting to walk out of the school doors every day safe and sound, and I am reminded that it shouldn’t be this way.

Madeline Raymond, who lives in the hilltowns, writes a monthly column.

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