When I was 7 years old, 32 students were killed at Virginia Tech.
When I was 9 years old, former House Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head.
When I was 11 years old, I sat silently in my sixth-grade English classroom. The whole room was frozen in front of the TV as 27 teachers and students were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Ms. Nelson turned it off when she realized how bad it was.
When I was 15 years old, 50 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub.
When I was 16 years old, 59 people were killed in Las Vegas.
When I was 17 years old, students and teachers were killed at Parkland High School. My classmates and I opened Twitter and were greeted by videos of dead teachers and bullets flying through the air.
And at 18 years old, the lockdown alarm went off in my own school.
I can't remember much about what was happening before then, but it seemed like a very standard day. I was in law and the Constitution class with Mr. G. He was one of my favorite teachers, somehow striking a balance between being lighthearted and serious.
He was standing at the front of the class when his phone began emitting an extremely loud air raid siren. A few students chuckled thinking it was some funny alarm he had forgotten to turn off, or a goofy ringtone, but his face went dead serious. Without a word he slowly walked past all of our desks and reached the door, quietly locking it.
He turned around and in a rehearsed tone informed us that there was a threat inside the building. We were instructed to move toward the front of the room, the farthest point from the door and next to the bucket of baseballs that sat waiting for a situation like this. Our defense in that moment was luck and the arm of your average high schooler.
I was more shocked and confused in the moment than scared, but I saw raw fear in the eyes of many of my classmates, slowly shuffling to the “safe” spot because they couldn't look away from the door, waiting for something to come through, bullet or body.
Then a tone rang over the loudspeakers followed by an announcement: it was all a cruel mistake.
Essentially, someone in the general area of the school had posted a photo of a gun. Police recommended schools not let anyone in or out for the moment, a partial lockdown. Then, in an innocent mistake, some administrator simply hit the wrong button.
Everyone looked around. A mood of confusion mixed into the adrenaline spiked fear of being told a shooter was in your school. We were told to go about normal activities inside the school.
Absolutely nothing got done by a single student or teacher that day. Everyone was asking each other where they had been, how did your teacher react, what would you have done if they went into your room.
But the amazing thing is that seemingly no one in the moment was surprised that this could happen, rather that it was finally happening. More, “Oh no, it's our turn,” than, “What are the chances this would happen?"
It was because we had all grown up in a world that had decided those kinds of things just happened. Shown we were acceptable losses. If not through the words of leaders, the actions.
Our lives were not worth slightly altering your interpretation of a law. They weren't worth coming together to make something better. Not worth change.
I do think we have the ability to make this country a better and safer place. And I think we can do it without thinking the other side is trying to murder our way of life. There must be some solution to protect both our people and our freedoms because each is worthless without the other.
So, I just ask you to stay motivated on the push for something better. Or, I ask you to reconsider if doing nothing is worth the lives. We can make a better place for the future, but only if we keep caring and keep trying.