By David Rogers. March 18, 2018. BOONE, NC — An estimated 200 Watauga High School faculty, staff and students walked out of classes on Friday with administrative approval, a student organized event to remember the 17 victims of mass murder at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Tears flowed freely during the 17 minutes of silence observed by the group as each participant internalized the senseless deaths in Parkland. During that period of silence, some prayed. Others mentally put themselves in the shoes of those students during their moments of terror. Still others thought about the bravery of the Parkland assistant football coach who threw himself in the path of bullets, saving the lives of several students. Even more wondered, “What if it had been here? How would I have responded to the threat? Would I now be dead?”
Indifference is not a beginning. It is an end.
For Blowing Rock’s Emily Smith, one of the student organizers of the Watauga walkout memorial, the brief Friday ceremony was a way that local students could acknowledge the pain inflicted not just on the school in Parkland, but also the community. “We cannot just be indifferent to what happened,” she said. “We have to say that this is unacceptable.”
In her prepared remarks during the ceremony, Smith articulated her beliefs in why it is important for Watauga students to remember their brothers and sisters in Parkland.
“What is indifference?” she asked in opening her remarks. “Etymologically, the word means ‘No difference, a strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.’
Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue?
“What are its courses and inescapable consequences?,” she continued to ask. “Is it a philosophy? Is a philosophy of indifference conceivable?
“Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue?” she asked the crowd, pointedly. “Is it necessary at times to practice indifference simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
“Of course, indifference can be tempting,” continued Smith. “More than that, it can be seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, even troublesome to be involved in another person’s pain and despair.
“And yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. Therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.
“Indifference is not a beginning,” Smith concluded. “It is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim.”
A small group of student protesters carrying a “Don’t Tread On Me” banner mistakenly believed that the walkout was about gun control, but Smith told Blowing Rock News later, “Our event really wasn’t about guns at all. It was simply remembering the victims. As our memorial evolved, I think most of them began to understand that. Those students were exercising their First Amendment rights, too, just like us, standing up for something they believed in.”
The walkout was planned as part of a national movement among high school students, mostly promoted through social media, to walkout of class this past Wednesday and observe 17 minutes of silence in memory of the 17 Parkland victims. However, because of snow in the High Country, Watauga cancelled school on Wednesday so the memorial event could not be held. Thursday was a three-hour delay, so the organizing students worked with school administration and Watauga County Schools officials to stage their walkout/memorial on Friday.
Bill Barbour, the Blowing Rock News photographer assigned to cover the event, noted afterwards, “You know, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard about this. I kind of figured that a bunch of kids would come outside and goof around a bit, then observe their 17 minutes of silence.
“But it wasn’t that at all,” Barbour added. “These students were mature beyond their years. They were serious about the messages of sympathy and empathy that they wanted to convey publicly in remembering the Parkland students and faculty members who lost their lives. Even the other protesters were respectful. I am really proud of our Watauga students for their honor, respect and leadership.”