On Wednesday, June 5th, I went to a ceremony held by the Connecticut Commission on Children with my English teacher, Mrs. Drake, and one of my classmates, Christy Kuesel. This ceremony honored the ideals of love, strength, and community, and specifically how these ideals were demonstrated in student responses to the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I was incredibly honored to represent Greenwich High School at this ceremony with my teacher and classmate. As the President of the Cover to Cover book club, I led an initiative earlier this year to compile an anthology of art, prose pieces, and poetry for Newtown High School. After inviting members of the Greenwich High School community to send in work, we received many thought-provoking and sincere submissions from both students and staff. I was first inspired to organize submissions for this book after identifying a longing within myself and my friends for an outlet to express our complex feelings about the tragedy. It seemed everybody had something he or she wanted to say. Despite the diverse variety of pieces we received, all seemed to communicate variations of similar ideas: admiration for the heroes who emerged from the incident, solidarity with the grieving community of Newtown, and a desire to somehow help the members of this community to heal.
I was recognized for sending six copies of this anthology, called Our Town, to Newtown High School, while Christy and Mrs. Drake were honored for writing poems that were selected to be sent to the Commission on Children. At the ceremony, we had the chance to watch both vocal and dance performances, look at a compilation of visual art pieces, and listen to readings of poems and essays from students across grade levels. I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to witness the heartfelt responses from schools and students across the country after the tragedy in Newtown took place. Some of the pieces were incredibly inventive. For instance, students at the Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center in Florida painted a turtle sculpture in vivid shades of red, blue, and yellow. Naming this turtle Ruth, the students sent her to Newtown as a symbolic gesture of solidarity: Ruth is meant to provide company for Shelley, a pet turtle at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Other submissions were simple, yet incredibly poignant. Numerous elementary school children presented acrostic poems at the ceremony, communicating messages of hope and unity while spelling out works like "Newtown," "Care," and "Friendship."
This event had a truly special effect on me. Before this ceremony, I had a dim awareness that students and school communities across the nation were responding to this tragedy. However, in my efforts to contribute to Greenwich High School's response, I was focused almost solely on what was transpiring in my immediate community. Yet after hearing Governor Malloy and the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, emphasize the importance of our efforts, I was struck by overwhelming feelings of happiness and faith. Not simply because of what I or my school had done, but because I realized that I am surrounded everyday by so many young people who care enough about humanity to engage with life and make a difference. Oftentimes people dismiss the next generation as cynical and self-absorbed, but after attending this event, I can say that I know better. Even though I heard over 70 students present their individual, diverse responses to the tragedy, I came away from this ceremony with the idea that we are all more unified than we think.
Despite the other differences which can divide us on every level, common threads of kindness, empathy, and compassion bind us together in our efforts to create a better world. I am sure that there will be days in the future when I feel close to losing faith in humankind, or that I may drown in the innumerable celebrity scandals and atrocities I see on the news. It will be during these times that I shall cherish the memory of this day. For I will find it impossible to lose hope in the future, knowing that there are countless others like me who want to build a society where children will never know days like 12/14.