Townsend Harris students take action following MSDHS shooting

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In light of the tragic mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month and its many predecessors, organized events pushing for gun reform have swept the nation. In solidarity with the Parkland community, Townsend Harris students have taken to both social media and action in their own communities to participate in the #NeverAgain movement.

Japanese, chorus, and music theory teacher Mariko Sato and her students have folded one thousand paper cranes to send to the MSDHS community. The approximately four-day-long project entailed the creation of origami cranes both in and out of class.

“My classmates and I intend for the cranes to convey a message of support and hope to the MSDHS community,” said sophomore Samantha Lee. “In Japanese culture, it is said that a wish will be granted if you fold a thousand cranes.”

As Samantha mentioned, Japanese culture holds cranes as symbolic creatures, conveying messages of peace and healing. “A lot of students learn about the Sadako: the girl who died because of the radiation from the Hiroshima bombing in 1945,” Dr. Sato said. “She made a thousand origami cranes with the hope that she would survive; but sadly, she dies. It’s a very famous story made into children’s book, and people knew about the origami cranes as a symbol of peace and healing. My classes have done it in the past for other occasions. So, it was a good cultural lesson as well as work toward a good cause.”

In order to send the cranes to the high school, Dr. Sato worked with junior Shivani Persaud. Shivani contacted a family friend who lives in Parkland, and they immediately agreed to deliver the cranes to the school.

“Right now it’s pretty hard to imagine what students, families, faculty, and the near and dear ones of the victims may be experiencing,” Shivani said. “The contact that I had for MSD, which was actually a parent of a student there, told me that he and his daughter have nightmares as a result of the shooting and both seek therapy. This incident has impacted a community in ways we can’t fathom and a whole nation of students at large. The cranes I agreed were very appropriate because they send a message of peace and healing, as Dr. Sato had explained to me.”

She continued, “Grades and studying and colleges are extremely important to us Harrisites, but so is acting upon or being aware of things, such as the shooting, for a greater good. Our Ephebic Oath reflects that. Parkland was an eye-opener we can’t ignore.”

Some students emphasized the importance of gun reform by attending the March for Our Lives event in Manhattan last Saturday. A sister march of that in Washington D.C. as well as others across the nation, the event saw the involvement of Townsend students among their fellow New Yorkers as they marched along Central Park West all the way to 43rd Street.

“I think this made everyone in the country more aware of how easy it is to get a gun in some places,” said senior Kathy Ling. “Gun control should be about keeping students safe in classrooms and preserving the lives of people in at-risk neighborhoods, not an issue up for political debate.”

Earlier in the month, Townsend Harris participated in the national walkout in mourning of the lives lost in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and to bring attention to the need for gun reform. Students walked to the Queens College track and stood in silence for seventeen minutes, dedicating each minute to a lost life.

“I just want to say how proud I am of the students and Townsend Harris community members for coming together to show their support and love for the MSD community. This is something that has never happened before, and it just shows that we can change and we can come together to make that change,” COSA director Sarah Oberlander said during the Classic’s livestream of THHS’ participation in the national walkout. “Community is really important here, and you guys embody that.”

“This is an incredibly touching moment,” writing process teacher and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumna Jessica Stillman also said. “I’m so proud of our school for really memorializing Parkland and MSD and the seventeen lives that were lost.”

In order to promote events like this and to publicize this movement, senior Aaron Fernando and junior Max Kurant created the Facebook and Instagram page “Townsend Harris for Gun Reform.” Working in accordance with the Student Union as well as other students interested in the movement, Aaron and Max plan to keep students engaged and notified about how they can use their voice to push for gun control.

On March 6, Politics Reborn held a meeting about how to protest effectively to inform students on how they can be impactful in the movement.

“[We] want to see actions speaking louder than words in Townsend Harris, which Aaron and I have done in our respective clubs, Politics Reborn and the Phoenix, and will be encouraging other people to do in their clubs too,” Max said. “It all starts locally and in our own communities, so we want everyone in the school playing a role.”

The Phoenix paid tribute to the Parkland tragedy at its annual Barnes and Noble Reading last Sunday, where the literary magazine collected donations for MSDHS. Additionally, the reading featured MSDHS students Simon Hoo and Anna Kasperski as well as alumni Marisa Browne and Ernie Wooden.

“While this reading was not solely surrounding the Parkland shooting and all performers had creative freedom when choosing what to perform, it is clear that the people felt the shooting needed to have more light shed on it,” Phoenix co-editor-in-chief Ciara Burke explained. “Events like these are crucial to continuing the fight for reform in showing our government that we haven’t forgotten, and that we’re not going to wait until the next shooting to start rallying again.”

In order to establish a school-wide offering of support for the victims and of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and their families, the SU created additional opportunities for fundraising. It sold #MSDStrong Never Again T-shirts for $10 each, sending all proceeds to the MSD Victims Fund. Likewise, tickets for Harrisfest are being sold in the SU store at $5 each with all the proceeds going to the MSD relief.

Looking back on the strong participation of Townsend Harris students in the various #NeverAgain movements, Dr. Sato remarked, “I am deeply impressed and inspired by these young students’ courage in taking huge actions in what they believe in right after experiencing an unimaginable tragedy.”