A Moment of Grace

In my last blog post, I was desperately grasping for hope after the horror at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

But then the students of Douglas, kids like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky, started speaking up. Having survived the carnage of Ash Wednesday, they were unafraid to speak truth to power. Their fervor flickered across the Twittersphere and TV screens and lit up the Florida legislature.

After a tumultuous month, Hope showed up again on Wednesday, all across our land. She came marching in solidarity out of high school classrooms and into the streets and school courtyards of our nation.

Hope also made an appearance in Jesuit's Hayes Plaza on Wednesday.

In a grace-filled moment, hundreds of Jesuit High students walked out of class and into the sun for a shining yet somber ceremony of remembrance during break. With tremendous dignity, students stood in solidarity with their peers across the country, finding their voices and "seizing the day," as the Newsies song goes.

This was Jesuit, and America, and our young people at their collective best. This moment was exactly what an Ignatian education should produce as its first fruits: Young people of competence, compassion, conscience, and commitment.

"You taught us to be contemplatives in action," our student leaders have reminded us over the last month.

This is the ultimate goal of our educational mission, to arrive at such a moment of grace. As educators and parents, we long for the day when we can step aside and let our young people speak and act for themselves. Awesome it is to behold.

On Wednesday, JHS student leaders led many of their classmates in a reflection on the history of school shootings. They implored political leaders to do their duty to protect children in school, to combat gun violence, and to stop saying that nothing more can be done to keep them safe.

Inspired by their peers in Parkland and national Jesuit leaders, the students raised hard questions about background checks and mental health and access to assault weapons.

Most importantly, the Student Organizing Committee led us in a poignant and heart-rending prayer service. Individual Jesuit students and teachers became "one of the 17" who died at Stoneman Douglas High, reading brief biographies of those who died in the first person.

Other students memorialized those murdered at Columbine and Stony Brook and Reynolds High, as well as children killed across our cities and in suburbs and rural enclaves, every single day.

In their activism, these Jesuit crusaders for peace joined with students across the city. In the hour after the 10 am walkout/teach-in/prayer service, I received emails from several Catholic high school principals across the city. Among my colleagues' immediate impressions:

John Garrow of Central Catholic: "Student leaders... really found their voices today."

Tim Joy of DLSNC: "(Today's walkout) was quite something. I am so proud of what our collective Catholic communities and our students did today."

Andy Kuffner of LaSalle: "This quote from one of our student leaders stands out to me the most: 'This time feels different.' Let us pray that the future bears this out as a prophetic statement!"

The ripples those impressive Parkland High students set in motion have become a tsunami of deep purpose among high schoolers across our nation. This moment of grace is not yet over. This time feels different.

Paul J. Hogan