Florida High School Alums Grieve in D.C.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni met at Tony and Joe's Feb. 27. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan.

“We never went to a high school reunion in over 20 years,” admitted three alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and teachers were slain on Valentine’s Day. “We’ve never ever had a meeting of high school alums here in D.C. But after the massacre, we had to get together to support the kids at the school. We’re so proud of them, how they are speaking out.”

The three 40-something alumni spoke to The Georgetowner on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place on the Georgetown waterfront. Well over 100 alumni came together with supporters and legislators on a few days’ notice to grieve, to support and to plan. The meeting was organized via social media in a flash. The alums had no idea that almost 140 alumni lived in the area, but they were glad they came.

The event began when 17 alumni presented short personal bios of each of the 17 victims and lit an electric candle in each one’s name. “We are with them in our hearts, prayers, thoughts and, even more, in our actions,” said Rachel Nyswander Thomas, a 1998 graduate.

Then came the call for action. “Everyone can do something,” said John Sorci, whose sister-in-law Liz was among the 17 victims. With quiet passion, he continued: “You can write and reach out to legislators, support the kids, go on line and support ‘Never Again.’ Do your part. Never give up. Never Again.”

The legislators followed. District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton remarked that she had been through many protests of school violence before, but “this one feels different. Young people are being the model for the leaders. The NRA has finally met its match. There are no signs that they [the students] are going away. The young people are calling them out.”

Norton railed against the unnamed senator from Florida who, at a CNN Florida town meeting last week, would not commit to returning campaign funds from the National Rifle Association. She was referring to Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, not to Sen. Bill Nelson, the former astronaut and soft-spoken Democrat who followed her at the podium.

Acknowledging the dozens of Stoneman Douglas alumni gathered in front of him, Nelson said he was awed by what the school had produced.

“Your fellow Stoneman students were so strong, so persistent, so intense at the town meeting that packed in 7,000 active listeners in the local hockey stadium last week,” he said. “Their determination made us all more determined.” Nelson is a hunter and a gun owner. But he especially supports expanding background checks on gun purchasers.

Mayor Muriel Bowser concluded the evening event’s long roster of speakers, which also included Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Florida). After noting the District’s strict gun laws, Bowser enthusiastically welcomed all students, alums and their families to come back on March 24 to participate in a protest march expected to draw a half-million people or more.

“We see you. We hear you. You will have the full support of our city next month in your demands for long-term action in Congress,” Bowser said. “You can rely on me to welcome you and to keep you safe.”

The three alums were excited to help out at the March 24 event as well. One had already asked her downtown building if they would donate guest-parking passes for Florida visitors during the march. She also planned to ask neighboring building managers and was eager to host Stoneman Douglas visitors in her home.

By the end of the two-hour event, the alums had donated almost $13,000. Further donations should be made through the website gofundme.com/dc-alumni-supporting-msd. According to organizers, all proceeds will go to the Broward Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3), to help support victims’ families and students affected by the tragedy.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schools alumni gathered at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place on the Georgetown waterfront. Feb. 27. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan.
Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schools alumni at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place on the Georgetown waterfront. Feb. 27. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan.
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