AURORA — Students walked to the front of Aurora High School at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning in an unsanctioned protest, joining students across the nation in opposition to gun violence. Then at 2 p.m., hundreds more made their way to the school gym for a school-sanctioned assembly.
Junior Logan Jancsurak said he and classmates had planned to join the 10 a.m. national event since last month, and about 100 gathered in front of the school’s main entrance after he garnered support via an Instagram account.
"I knew a lot of people didn't like the idea of an assembly, but there was nothing that could be done to organize a walkout at 10 a.m.," he said. "I didn't really think it would get that much attention, but it ended up getting 160 followers."
Another student said the first few minutes students talked among themselves before falling silent. "Eventually some students, including myself, joined hands and formed a big circle," she said.
Junior Ashley Foster said she felt someone should say something about the Parkland victims, so she looked up their names on her phone and read them out loud to the group.
"I decided to make the most of this meaningful protest," she said.
High School Principal Paul Milcetich could not be reached for comment about whether students who participated in the 10 a.m. walkout would face disciplinary action.
At 2 p.m., students filled the floor of the main gymnasium, with the choir sitting in bleachers for a 25-minute assembly at the end of the school day.
The purpose was "to take a stand against school violence," according to Milcetich and senior class President Ethan Walker.
Milcetich and Assistant Principal Brian Brookhart had been at the 10 a.m. event and remained impartial, said Foster.
At the 2 p.m. assembly, Walker and AHS Spanish teacher Gayle Lewis spoke and members of all the school’s choirs sang "We Are The World."
The gymnasium was silent for 1 minute and 17 seconds as the gathering remembered victims of all U.S. school shootings (first minute) and the 17 victims in Parkland, Fla. a month ago (last 17 seconds).
"The students created this opportunity to have our voices heard on a much larger platform," said Walker. "By moving forward with an attitude of compassion, unity, kindness and inclusion we can improve our community and affect the daily lives of friends and strangers."
Milcetich praised the efforts of students who planned the observance, saying it could bring about change. "This step is important so young people can become the future leaders of our nation," he said.
"The themes of compassion, kindness and reaching out to make a difference are sentiments that we should emphasize now with the recent events, but also work to carry forward at all times."
The principal said some students approached him with the assembly proposal, and "I supported the concept. We wanted to plan something together, and multiple ideas were considered."
Milcetich said earlier in the week, students had the opportunity to register to vote and sign a banner in support of the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting.
The organizing students chose Lewis to speak, and she said she was honored to be the staff person picked. "Since I’ve been here a long time, I kind of assumed the caretaker/mom roll," she explained.
"I care about kids and they know it. Only time will tell if this effort was successful, but I think the message we had is ours to share for a long time."
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 ext. 4189, or email@example.com.