- Hundreds of students and parents gathered for a vigil on Wednesday to honor the victims of the recent shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.
- After hearing a number of politicians and political advocates give speeches, students walked out in protest because they were angry that they did not have the chance to speak and felt that the tragedy was being politicized.
- The students eventually returned to the vigil and were able to share their thoughts and mourn the loss of their schoolmate.
A vigil for the heroes and victims of the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado prompted students and parents to walk out in protest of the event’s speakers, who they felt were politicizing the tragedy.
More than 1,000 students and parents attended the planned vigil on Wednesday night, which was intended to honor 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo who was killed during the shooting, as well as the eight other survivors who were injured.
Castillo has been praised as a hero for giving his life to protect his fellow students by lunging at one of the shooters, giving the others time to take cover or escape to safety.
The event was described as “an interfaith memorial vigil,” hosted by another high school nearby. The vigil was intended to bring the community together, but instead, it resulted in a large portion of the crowd leaving the service in protest.
Many people who walked out were reportedly angry that the platform was given to politicians who politicized the shooting by talking about gun control, instead of letting STEM students have a chance to speak.
The vigil was organized by students who are part of an organization called Team ENOUGH, which is a youth program of the Brady Campaign, a national organization that advocates for gun control and gun violence prevention.
The event featured Colorado Congressman Jason Crow and Senator Michael Bennet, who is running for president. A representative from Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, also spoke.
The students made it clear that they wanted to speak and hear from each other multiple times during the speaker-led portion of the event and during the silent candle-lit vigil following. In clips from the event, voices can be heard repeatedly calling out, “Let STEM students speak!”
After the speakers finished, hoards of people walked out of the gym where the vigil was held. The group then took over the hallways of the school, where at one point they were seen chanting “Mental health!”
After gathering outside, the students started chanting, “To the gym!” They eventually returned to the event where they were finally given their chance to talk and remember Castillo. The students also seized on this opportunity to explain why they walked out.
“What has happened at STEM is awful, but it’s not a statistic. We can’t be used for a reason for gun control, we are people, not a statement.” One student said.
“We wanted Kendrick to be mourned, we wanted all of you to join us in that mourning,” another student added. “But that was not allowed here. We all walked out, we were not kicked out despite what you have heard, and we’re back now to tell you that we love Kenrick, and we love all of the survivors.”
The Big Picture
The students eventually were able to make their voices heard by reclaiming the vigil and redirecting it to focus on community and mourning.
However, they had to protest first to be able to have the memorial they wanted, and it came at the cost of these students and this community feeling used and taken advantage of.
Politicizing gun-related tragedies to push an agenda is not a new practice. It is also not just limited to the “side” that wants gun control and regulation. On the other end of the spectrum, plenty of politicians and advocates have used school shootings as a reason to call for more guns in schools.
The same day as the vigil, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that will allow public school districts in the state to arm their teachers. This new law came as a response to the shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida which killed 17 people.
The combination of politics and gun violence in schools creates a very sticky situation. Some students affected by school shootings use their platforms to advocate for a certain agenda, like David Hogg and Emma Gonzales, who were survivors of the Parkland shooting and have become prominent activists.
However, the walkout at the vigil last night shows that many students and communities who are forced to live through these tragic experiences just want to remember and mourn, making it extremely difficult to determine how to move forward.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Billionaire Pledges to Pay Loan Debt of This Year’s Morehouse College Graduates
- Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith promised to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduates at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black school in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Though the exact amount of the class’ debt is still being calculated, the gift is expected to be around $40 million.
- This is just one of Smith’s major donations in recent years.
A Generous Gift
Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College’s class of 2019.
Smith announced the news on Sunday while delivering the commencement address at the all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” he said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
His announcement shocked the nearly 400 graduates, who reacted with cheers and applause.
One graduating student named Aaron Mitchom told the Associated Press that he had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 in student debt. According to his math, it would take him about 25 years.
“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he told the AP after the commencement. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”
Brandon Manor, another graduate, told the New York Times, “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans.”
Who is Robert F. Smith?
The 56-year-old who originally hails from Colorado but now lives in Austin went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree and earned a B.S. in chemical engineering. Afterward, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School.
He went on to work for several companies like Kraft General Foods and then Goldman Sachs, advising companies like Apple and Microsoft before founding his own investment firm.
What does this gift mean?
Smith’s pledge stunned administrators, who called it the largest single gift in the school’s history. The donation also comes at a time where student loan debt has soared to roughly $1.5 trillion, according to recent Federal Reserve data.
Morehouse President David A. Thomas called the gesture “a liberation gift,” telling CNN, “When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained.”
“(Smith’s gift) gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”
According to Thomas, the total amount of student debt for the class is still being calculated but the Associated Press estimated that the gift is worth about $40 million.
In return, Smith says he expects the graduating class to pay it forward to give future classes the same opportunity one day.
“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said.
“We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”
Other Major Donations
The billionaire tech executive has managed to stay under the radar for much of his career. While this major donation has thrust him into the spotlight, it is far from his first generous gift.
In 2016, he pledged a $20 million gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That same year, he donated $50 million to Cornell University to go towards its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, and to support black and female engineering students.
In 2017, Smith signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people – including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – who have promises to giving most of their wealth to philanthropy. In 2018, he gave $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to focus on research and care for African-American men and veterans with prostate cancer.
Before Sunday’s graduation speech, Smith had already donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships and a new park.
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