Story by Malia Battafarano and Reese Pike, Lance Managing Editor and Lance Copy Editor

Valentine’s Day. A shooter enters Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen people are killed. Shocked and disturbed, the nation erupts into conversation about school shootings. Students across the country are pulled into the debate about violence that directly affects them. One day later, senior Chase Elder begins writing a poem.

The poem deals with school shootings. It deals with gun control. More than anything, it speaks to the terrifying reality that we can no longer assume our schools are safe. After finishing a draft, Elder shared his writing with a friend. He said she teared up. School-related violence is his friend’s worst fear.

She was like, ‘Please go somewhere with this,’” Elder said. “‘You have to.’”

Elder did go somewhere with it. He presented the poem in Louder Than a Bomb competitions. When Poetry Club as a whole was approached by Assistant Principal Trudi Nolin about performing some of their poems at the April 17 assembly, Elder stepped up and shared his piece with the entire school. According to Louder Than a Bomb club sponsor Josie Lauridsen and Elder, the performance was well-received.

“[The performance] was very moving,” Lauridsen said. “You could tell in the room the entire atmosphere just understood and felt exactly what Chase was feeling. We’re being indirectly and directly affected by the events in Florida. We can all relate to what it feels like to want to feel safe in school.”

When Elder started the poem, he said it was a way for him to deal with the effects of the shooting. He helps choir instructor Greg Woodin teach Concert Choir and he said that working with other students caused the issue to affect him on a personal level.

“I thought about these kids that I teach and how I don’t want any of them to have an experience like that and how [Parkland] … took a toll on me personally,” Elder said.

The movement to end school shootings and introduce more gun control measures has become increasingly student-led. Many Parkland students are now active advocates for gun control methods of preventing school shootings. This has inspired other students in schools across the country. Lauridsen said Elder’s poem was part of this student movement.

“The point we were trying to make, Chase as an individual and [Poetry Club] as a team and us as a whole unit, was that there’s this problem, not within our own building or our own community, but nationwide and as a country,” Lauridsen said. “These are the emerging young adults that are building our country, that are going to run our country someday. These are the issues we need to talk about.”

Elder specifically said he was inspired to speak out by the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“[The Parkland students] being very vocal and very open about their opinions and their experiences, even though it’s such a hard thing to talk about, was really inspiring to me,” Elder said.

According to Lauridsen, Poetry Club was very supportive of Elder’s poetry and the process he went through to produce the poem. In the club’s meetings, students work together to peer edit each other’s poems. They also have workshops every Friday.

“The whole team was very supportive of Chase and always gave him the best feedback,” Lauridsen said. “[They were] always supportive of him and picked him up when he was down, and so that was really great to see that and witness that.”

Overall, Elder said one of his goals when writing the poem was reach out to others and make them think about the situation.

“There’s a point where a poem becomes more than a poem,” Elder said. “I think this poem was the one that wasn’t just a poem. It was a cry for help, not only from me, but from tons of kids who have been in that situation or who fear to be in that situation.”

May 18. A student enters Santa Fe High School with a gun. Ten people are killed. It is the 22nd school shooting of 2018 and the 14th since Elder began writing his poem. Despite the uproar after Parkland, school-related gun violence remains a very real problem. Elder said the best thing students can do about the issue is to not forget these incidents.

“We can’t let the idea of it fade away, we can’t pretend that it’s not real, we can’t pretend that it didn’t happen, because that’s only going to make it worse,” Elder said. “Because then what are we going to do with the next one? Forget about it. And then the next one, we forget about it. And it’s just going to keep being this endless cycle of a tragedy, be sad, forget; a tragedy, be sad, forget.”

Student conversation, Elder said, is a powerful tool that can keep the issue of school shootings in the national dialogue and help us find solutions as a country.

“As long as we keep talking about [school shootings], we can keep the memories of not only these kids and these teachers alive, but also the idea of the fact that this isn’t something we should have to worry about at 14 to 18, or even younger,” Elder said. “This isn’t something that we, as children, should have to be scared of. I shouldn’t have to wake up before school and be like, ‘What happens if someone comes in with a gun? Where do I go? What do I do?’ None of us should have to worry about that.”

Elder said he hopes his written words, too, can have an impact.

“My poem can’t stop school shootings,” Elder said. “It’s words. They can’t stop a bullet. But I hope someone at least sees that and I hope it changes at least one person’s opinion … or not even change[s] their opinion, [but] make[s] them think about it.”

Photo taken by Brelin Lewis

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