When I interviewed Jaclyn Corin, Sarah Chadwick, and Delaney Tarr last May, I asked the three women, then-juniors and -seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, about their "why." How, in a matter of days after a gunman walked into their campus' freshman building and murdered 17 students and faculty, did they decide that they were going to use their platform—and privilege—to ignite a national conversation on gun control?
The answer was simple: Without hesitation, Corin replied, "I don’t want the next generation to fear leaving their classroom to go to the bathroom because they’re going to get shot in the head."
America has normalized mass shootings, so if Parkland wanted to stay in the news cycle, they needed to act fast. Within 24 hours, Cameron Kasky's Twitter hashtags #NeverAgain and #EnoughIsEnough went viral. Four days later, he along with a handful of other MSD students—Corin, Chadwick, and Tarr included—founded March For Our Lives. Together, they led one of the largest student-led protests in history. They exposed NRA-supporting politicians and companies. They started the Road to Change, traveling to more than 80 communities across the country to educate young people and register them to vote before the midterms, overall increasing youth voter turnout. Most recently, they've encouraged the U.S. House of Representatives to prioritize legislation like the H.R.8 background checks bill.
Since February 14, 2018, these students have made a commitment to fight not only for Parkland, but for all communities across the country who have been affected by gun violence. In doing so, they sparked the most active (and promising) gun control debate America has seen in years. You don't know why it feels different, but it is. Out of such grief and tragedy have come positive, history-making moments.
Here, eight Parkland activists reflect on what they've felt most proud of these past 12 months.
“When I first started spitballing ideas for #NeverAgain and the march, I had one specific goal in mind: I wanted people to think of Parkland not as a city of people who cowered in the face of great tragedy, but as a city that took the worst-case scenario and stood up even taller to say that we are stronger than that. And I do believe that has worked—whether it’s Ryan Petty and Lori Alhadeff finding the strength to run for public office after losing their children, or hundreds of students putting together community service projects. Parkland showed the world that we’re stronger than hate, and I think that’s something to be proud of.”
“I couldn’t possibly narrow down one single moment as my proudest this year. Every day, I become even prouder of what young people have been able to accomplish. I take great pride in the person I’ve become and my growing persistence—something I must credit to all of the inspirational people I’ve encountered and the lessons they have taught me.”
“My proudest moment was definitely on my 17th birthday when we were on the Road to Change tour over the summer. That day, we were in front of the state capitol building [in Montgomery] protesting in the pouring rain with some of the kids from the local Alabama chapter.”
“Weirdly enough, one of my proudest moments in the last year occurred at the March on the NRA when we were faced with counter protesters. They were holding AR-15s and screaming at us kids, but instead of screaming back we began to pass them sunflowers. I realized in that moment that being an activist isn’t about being fearless. It’s about having things to fear, but choosing to overcome our ideological differences, to be kind to one another, and push society forward. I think we need a lot more of that in this day and age.”
“I’m most proud of how the conversation about gun violence has started happening in Congress and communities that haven’t faced it yet. It’s important for everyone, no matter who they are, to recognize how much of an impact gun violence has on people’s daily lives.”
“My proudest moment of the past year has to be November 7, 2018. Waking up the day after the midterm elections to record breaking numbers of youth voter turnout made me incredibly proud. There were a whole lot of wins. Young people showed up and we made our voices heard.”
“My proudest moment has to be last June when I sat down in Queens, New York, at a diner with a couple of 10-year-olds that were really interested in starting their own chapter of March for Our Lives. From the age of 8, these kids were interested in helping the world, but didn’t know how to until that day at the diner. I still talk to them from time to time to just catch up or answer any of their questions. That’s the power of this movement. It isn’t about us—it’s about all of the people we can inspire and encourage along the way.”
"This one insane year has been made up of so many little moments building off of each other. For me, my true pride lies in knowing that we’ve made individual lives even the smallest bit better. In the activists, in the survivors, in the fighters, we are all coming together to make the world better.”
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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