Ever since February 14, I've struggled with trying to find a way to make a difference, to do something about the tragedy that struck my home of Parkland. After watching the strength, the unparalleled wisdom of the students of Douglas and all around the country in the aftermath of the shooting, I knew that I had to follow them. Upon hearing about March For Our Lives, I instantly felt the inexplicable need to use my voice and go to Washington D.C. and I was fortunate enough to do so.
I and over 100 UCF students raised money to go to Washington alongside the youth of our country to make history and fight for those who no longer can. We packed charter buses and took the 17 hours drive across five states. When we pulled into the city at about 6 a.m., I was bustling with excitement, forgetting about the exhaustion of the draining bus ride. All I could think about was how we all, and hundreds of thousands of others, were about to be a part of history.
Once we all got settled and changed, we started off toward the march. On the way, we passed the White House. Upon seeing the famous quarters, it made this whole experience seem more real. But even still, it was hard to wrap my head around that we were actually in D.C. about to march for change.
From there we traveled on to the JW Marriott, where MSD Alumni were hosting a breakfast and rally point for those attending the march. From the second we stepped foot in the lobby, you could instantly feel the love and support of family, the Eagles family. I ran into old friends, teachers, people I hadn't spoken to in years, but instantly picked right back up with. The love that radiated out of that room was undeniable, but underneath it laid pain and sadness. There lingered the reminder of why we were there. The horrible truth that almost two months ago 17 of our own, our fellow Eagles, were taken from us.
After making our rounds, we donned our maroon and orange ribbons and began our journey down Pennsylvania Avenue, right toward the Capital Building. As we went along, we saw people of all ages, races, genders, ethnicities holding up their signs in support, demanding for our voices to be heard and for change to come. At about 10 a.m. we finally settled into our spots in front of the stage and waited. I looked around, taking in every moment, every person, every sign. Taking in the history that was around me, that I was now a part of.
As noon came around, I suddenly heard music and saw Andra Day walk onto the stage. The second the first word left her lips, the tears started streaming. The realization that people we here for my home, for my teachers, my fellow Eagles, and not even just them, but also for the thousands upon thousands who have lost their lives from gun violence.
Performer after performer, speaker after speaker, I couldn't be more proud of my generation. For the strength and resilience of those kids who so bravely stood up and told their stories. For the historic teenagers who orchestrated this worldwide event. With every passing moment, my hope for change and determination rose higher and higher.
Then, a young girl with a shaved head walked on the stage and the crowd went wild. Emma González had arrived. I instantly felt starstruck, amazed that someone so young could elicit a reaction like that. That she could be one of the faces of this movement. That she could garner the bravery that she and so many others have done at such a young age.
And her speech was something I will never forget. As her tears began to flow, so did mine. As she emphasized how those 17 people would never be here again, my heart broke even more. As she stood there in silence for 6 minutes and 20 seconds, my heart stopped.
Complete silence. No one said a word. Not a car horn, or a plane overhead, or a bird chirping. The world stopped in those moments. We all were faced with the reality that in mere minutes, someone's world can change, can stop completely. Emma made history on March 24 with that speech and more than honored the 17 Douglas victims.
As Jennifer Hudson came out and belted out the finale of the march. The emotions that had been building up, the pain that had been held inside since February 14, began rushing toward the surface, desperate to be let out. The realization and shock that this actually happened. That this was real. That I was marching in Washington D.C. because 17 people were murdered in my home was too much to comprehend, to process. But it was real. And I was in D.C. And all of us from around the world were united as one, determined to make history. To ensure that these senseless deaths from gun violence would stop.
March 24, 2018, is a day I will never forget. Being able to attend March For Our Lives in Washington D.C. was an experience unlike any other. It was something that I will cherish forever. Something that I will tell my children and my grandchildren about one day. I'll tell them that we started a movement that day. That we were the change.
And I know this change may not be quick. That it won't be easy. But it's coming. And I'm going to be fighting for it until that brighter day when no one has to fear for their life at the hand of a gun finally rise. For that day when future generations can feel safe. For that day when no one has to feel the pain of losing a loved one from a gun. Never again.