Each one symbolized some of the well-known schools affected by shootings, from Columbine and Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schools, to Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech universities, to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Students released the biodegradable balloons solemnly. With each one were pieces of paper describing how Saint Viator students were praying and advocating for an end to gun violence, and action items on how to get in touch with elected officials.
“Right now, we are known as the generation of mass school shootings,” said senior Gina Pieri, one of the student organizers. “I have hope that we will be the generation to end mass school shootings. If not now, when? If not us, Who?”
Student organizers had circulated a petition for weeks leading up to the walkout, which they presented to members of the administration.
“When we put this event together, we chose to make action a cornerstone of the program, along with awareness and prayer,” said senior Tim Witek. “Action is at the core of Viatorian and Christian values.”
Students who walked out of class knew ahead of time that they would receive unexcused absences for missing parts of third and fourth period, but they participated anyway.
“I’m willing to take the risk,” said freshman Cassie Limberakis. “We’re alive. (Students who were killed) have no voice. We’re their voice. We’re here for them.”
Members of the administration watched the demonstration play out peacefully, while two Arlington Heights police squad cars observed from the school’s parking lot.
“We’re following guidelines from the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Principal Karen Love said of the unexcused absences.
Ms. Deborah Scerbicke, one of the school’s two deans of students, spoke to the crowd and said she represented every faculty and staff member.
The 25-minute demonstration ended with a prayer and an action plan. Each student received a pamphlet highlighting ways to contact elected officials, including phone numbers and addresses, and a short template for a message. Students said this walkout was just the beginning.
Finally, members of the League of Women Voters were on hand during all lunch periods to register students to vote.