First one friend on Facebook, a guy I went to high school with, posted that he was sickened by the news. Then another. And another. I commented on one asking, "What is going on?", but before I saw their response my phone chimed with a message from one of my best friends.
"There was a shooting at Great Mills High School this morning. My sister just called me."
What? That's my high school. Our high school. The quiet school in southern Maryland I graduated from was suddenly all over mine and everyone phones and televisions. How was that even possible?
Again, my brain stopped all function for a moment, but my eyes still worked. Tears began to form, and they stayed with me all day. As the day went on and I followed the story, the weight in my stomach got heavier and heavier. To be honest, it hasn't gotten much lighter, almost a week later. The moment that hit me harder than anything else was when friends who I went to school with were posting about the reunification sight at Leonardtown High School and how they were about to go get their own kids who were students at GMHS now.
I felt like I had been punched. When people would ask how I was doing over the next few days, that was always my answer. "I feel like I've been punched." My friend's children were in harms way. It could have easily been my own. This one was too close to home to be just another news story.
I personally believe we all have an element of "it won't happen to me" that is constantly spinning in the back of our brains. We never expect that we will get in a car accident every time we turn the key. That happens to someone else. Plane crashes? The odds are so small; at least that's what we tell ourselves as we check our bags. School shootings? They're awful and they need to stop, but we have all convinced ourselves that they happen "over there." Parkland, Florida is a long ways from my home in Maryland. According to my quick check on Google Maps, the two high schools are just over a thousand miles from each other. It will never happen here. That's so far away.
That gap closed Tuesday morning. The thousand miles were gone. Our stories are the same. When I saw an article on CNN titled, "Parkland Survivors to Great Mills Students: 'We're Here For You' ", I realized that the students currently at GMHS would never be the same, just like the students are Douglas and every other school what has experienced the horrific event that is a broken trust in the safety of your school. Yes, the total number of students killed is different, and I am immensely grateful for the School Resource Officer, Blaine Gaskill, for making sure those numbers weren't closer, but the shattered security is now a shared experience for them all.
i acknowledge that it is different for those of us alumni who are here trying to support them with tears in our eyes. I always felt safe at Great Mills High School. I fear they never will again, and fearing that for them is another fist to the stomach. I will never pretend that I fully know what they are going through just because I also call myself a Hornet. I just hope those students know that the rest of the Great Mills family is here for them.
Many of us were not able to march with them this weekend, but I hope they know just how proud of them us alumni are. They are showing the world what Great Mills is made of. They are marching for Jaelynn Wiley, shouting "We Are Great Mills!" I have never been so proud to see much green and gold, and yet it still feels like a punch to the gut to know that they have to march at all. This. Must. End.
Jaelynn Wiley, a beautiful young woman who was destined to do great things, NEEDS TO BE THE LAST. The list of children killed in the place they go to learn and grow needs to stop growing. The names of schools, which I saw listed on so many signs in pictures from across the country, needs to stay where is it. It is already too long.
On Tuesday, I sat down with my two boys, currently a 6th grader and a 4th grader, and I told them what happened. I reminded my middle schooler of the walkout his school so recently participated in, and what that was about. I also told them that I know it is easy to hear about these things and think that it won't happen to you. It can, I never hope it will, but it did for their mom's school. We had a long conversation that could be summed up as if you see something, say something. I told them about what happened at Leonardtown High, the very school where Great Mills students were bused to be met by their families, where a possible shooting was stopped because someone said something. The irony of that is not lost on me. I am just grateful that Leonardtown didn't have to be listed on posters this weekend.
To my fellow hornets, I love you all. To the current students, you are not alone. Stay strong. Your generation are about to change the world in amazing ways.
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