On March 14, a day calling for students around the nation to walk out of classes for 17 minutes in memory and protest of the 17 murders committed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Feb. 14, Penn Yan Academy students walked together. This latest “mass shooting,” a new Valentine’s Day massacre, committed by a single gunman, a former student armed with a semi-automatic rifle, took the lives of 14 students and three faculty members, and has ignited a nationwide storm of debate over gun regulation vs. the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The students and administration of Penn Yan Academy did not feel the political nature of a walk out was how they wished to honor and remember 17 innocent victims of one disturbed man’s violent act.

Rather than walk out of their school, the PYA students walked together – out of their classes and to the gymnasium for a memorial service honoring the victims as individuals. For the first time in his career, says Principal Dave Pullen, all the students sat close together in one section of the bleachers, watching respectfully as 14 of their fellow students and three faculty members stood before them; one proxy for each victim. Each came to the podium and spoke the name, age, and a brief description of the fallen person they stood for, and then placed a rose for each victim in a simple vase on an unadorned table as the school bell tolled.

Student Council President Kaitlynne Zeno said the program resulted from a challenge from Principal David Pullen, who asked the Student Council to suggest a positive, safe, and supervised way to participate in the national walkout.

“We worked very diligently on a plan and have come up with something we feel proud of. Today we are not here to take a political stance on the issue, but to honor and remember the victims of the Parkland shooting in Florida, she said.

Zeno continued, “On Feb. 14, students and faculty members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School expected to go through a normal day of school: going to class, seeing friends, learning something new. However, the unexpected happened. At 2:19 p.m., Nikolas Cruz (age 19) was dropped off outside the school where the doors were open to release students from school. Upon dismissal, as students were leaving, Cruz wandered into the school and opened fire. As a result, 17 people lost their lives. Not only were the family’s, friends, and community of those 17 people impacted, but so was the entire nation.”

Student Council Member Ryan Smith told fellow students, “If you came down to the gym today expecting answers, you will find none. Even from a spiritual standpoint, I can’t tell you why this happened, I wish I could but I can’t. I don’t think anyone can. Consequently, I really don’t know one foolproof way to completely end all school shooting. We wouldn’t be here, under these circumstances, if anyone did. What I can do is offer a few words that hopefully will resonant with you today.

“As a society, we often spend too much time on the question, ‘What if?’ Lise Friedman wrote, I’m paraphrasing here, that the words what and if are two of the most non-threatening words, but put them together and they will haunt you for the rest of your life. Her words are very true. Spending time on the what-ifs of life is not productive nor healthy for us as humans. There are millions of alternative scenarios of what ifs we could go over, and that’s what we’re here for. So what are are we here for?

“‘Lest we forget.’ It’s a phrase with which we are all too familiar with. It is a phrase that is reserved only for the most heinous and appalling crimes committed against the human race. It is for us Americans a call to action. While our lives move on, we are asked to continue to set aside a moment to remember, to think back. Without a society’s knowledge of the past, it is doomed to repeat itself. This is why every year we have a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11, and this is why we take a moment today. We cannot forget what took place that day because when we do, we can’t prevent it, and when we don’t prevent it, it happens again. Today you will hear names read and a bell rung. As you are listening, know that each name belonged to somebody – somebody who was someone’s classmate, someone’s best friend, someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, someone’s son, someone’s daughter. This isn’t the time for political discussions. It is a day of reflection.

“Twenty-two days have passed since the Parkland shooting. The media has left and the flowers have wilted. What remains? The memories of those 17 people, those 17 souls, and the horrible acts to which they fell victim to. When you hear the names, let your heart feel the pain. It’s the first step in not forgetting. “Lest we forget.”

Principal Dave Pullen commented, “I need all of you to think about not just what you, the student body, did today. It is more about what you are going to do next. To stop the violence and hurt, each of us needs - every day - to willfully demonstrate ever-widening circles of tolerance, concern, care, and compassion toward ourselves, fellow students, and teachers. This is our school community. If we want a positive, peaceful, accepting environment where all students have an opportunity to learn, thrive, and grow, then it will be our responsibility to make that happen. Kindness matters. Be a part of a positive solution for your school and community.

“When you leave the gymnasium this morning and re-enter the hallways, classrooms and cafeteria, be the one to reach out to students who are struggling, having a bad day, or going through difficult and challenging times. You will see and read around the building to smile, listen, include, say a kind word, defend or accept 17 new people into your circle. Those are good ideas, but they cannot and should not end after your reach 17... A few words — that take a few moments — can make someone feel extraordinary for a lifetime.”

In their words

Student Council President Kaitlynne Zeno

Good morning. As some of you may know, student council was approached by Mr. Pullen who asked if we could figure out a positive, safe, and supervised way to participate in the national walkout. We worked very diligently on a plan and have come up with something we feel proud of. Today we are not here to take a political stance on the issue, but to honor and remember the victims of the Parkland shooting in Florida.

On February 14th, students and faculty members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School expected to go through a normal day of school: going to class, seeing friends, learning something new. However, the unexpected happened. At 2:19 PM, Nikolas Cruz (age 19) was dropped off outside the school where the doors were open to release students from school. Upon dismissal, as students were leaving, Cruz wandered into the school and opened fire.

As a result, 17 people lost their lives. Not only were the family's, friends, and community of those 17 people impacted, but so was the entire nation.

Some schools across the country are planning to respectfully walk out. We have chosen to honor the victims in this manner. By walking together to the gymnasium and having this ceremony. Today, we will have 17 people represent those victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. These people will read the name, age, and description of the victim while placing a flower in a vase. We will ring the bell after each victim and take a brief moment of silence once every name is read. Please be respectful as we do so.

Student Council Member Ryan Smith

If you came down to the gym today expecting answers, you will find none. Even from a spiritual standpoint, I can't tell you why this happened, I wish I could but I can’t. I don't think anyone can. Consequently, I really don't know one foolproof way to completely end all school shooting, we wouldn't be here, under these circumstances, if anyone did. What I can do is offer a few words that hopefully will resonant with you today.

As a society, we often spend too much time on the question, “What if?” Lise Friedman wrote, I'm paraphrasing here, that the words what and if are two of the most non-threatening words, but put them together and they will haunt you for the rest of your life. Her words are very true. Spending time on the what-ifs of life is not productive nor healthy for us as humans. There are millions of alternative scenarios of what ifs we could go over and that's what we're here for. So what are are we here for?

“Lest we forget.” It’s a phrase with which we are all too familiar with. It is a phrase that is reserved only for the most heinous and appalling crimes committed against the human race. It is for us Americans a call to action. While our lives move on, we are asked to continue to set aside a moment to remember, to think back. Without a society's knowledge of the past, it is doomed to repeat itself. This is why every year we have a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11, and this is why we take a moment today. We cannot forget what took place that day because when we do, we can't prevent it, and when we don't prevent it, it happens again. Today you will hear names read and a bell rung. As you are listening, know that each name belonged to somebody – somebody who was someone's classmate, someone's best friend, someone's boyfriend or girlfriend, someone's son, someone's daughter. This isn't the time for political discussions. It is a day of reflection.

Twenty-two days have passed since the Parkland shooting. The media has left and the flowers have wilted. What remains? The memories of those 17 people, those 17 souls, and the horrible acts to which they fell victim to. When you hear the names, let your heart feel the pain. It's the first step in not forgetting. “Lest we forget.”

Principal Dave Pullen

I would like to thank our Student Council Members for organizing this morning remembrance ceremony to honor the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Your leadership and group effort has been unparalleled in my 17 years as an administrator.

Before you leave the gym this morning, I would like to share with you some reflection I received from a good friend of mine that I am hopeful will resonate with all of you.

I need all of you to think about not just what you, the student body, did today. It is more about what you are going to do next. To stop the violence and hurt, each of us needs - every day - to willfully demonstrate ever-widening circles of tolerance, concern, care, and compassion toward ourselves, fellow students, and teachers. This is our school community. If we want a positive, peaceful, accepting environment where all students have an opportunity to learn, thrive, and grow, then it will be our responsibility to make that happen. Kindness matters. Be a part of a positive solution for your school and community.

When you leave the gymnasium this morning and re-enter the hallways, classrooms and cafeteria, be the one to reach out to students who are struggling, having a bad day, or going through difficult and challenging times. You will see and read around the building to smile, listen, include, say a kind word, defend or accept 17 new people into your circle. Those are good ideas, but they cannot and should not end after your reach 17.

If you see something, say something. If you see something that concerns you or someone hurting or harming another person, reach out to your counselor, Mrs. Covert, Mr. Tese, your teachers, your coaches, your administrators. Better yet, reach out to the individual and help them. Take a risk and sit with someone new or alone at a lunch table. Offer to help the student who may be struggling with their homework, lab, or classroom project. Tell someone their art work is beautiful or they were awesome in the Musical last weekend — believe me they were.

A few words — that take a few moments — can make someone feel extraordinary for a lifetime.

I challenge all of you to just be kind to everyone — every day.

Thank You