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The heartbreak needs to stop

A student speaks out at a safety forum at WGHS

The following was written and delivered by Amber Benjamin, a senior at Watkins Glen High School, who with classmate Jared Prien moderated a 7th-through-12th-grade assembly Tuesday morning on the issue of school shootings and safety measures.

By Amber Benjamin

For everyone who doesn't know me, I'm Amber Benjamin, and I'm a senior. I've lived in this county for my entire life, like many other students here have. I've attended this school since I was enrolled by my parents back in kindergarten, and I remember every teacher that I've had since. I remember some of my classmates who used to be in my 1st grade class who moved away with their families.

But we're not here for you to listen to me ramble about my past. We're here to address school violence. Jared and I wrote an article that sparked the interest of many people throughout our district. The two of us are part of this school's Journalism class run by Mr. Durfee. We interviewed three students who all had different opinions on gun violence and school safety, and then published their thoughts in the "Review and Outlook" opinion section of the paper.

After the issue was published, (Superintendent Greg) Kelahan and (High School Principal Kai) D'Alleva approached both of us wanting to do this assembly. They want students to speak out about their opinions and concerns, in a comfortable setting.

Since everyone else gets a moment to speak, I would like a moment to get what I think off of my chest.

Honestly, I've never been a person who has been great with numbers. So I'm not going to stand up here and speak about facts and statistics that I'm not confident in. In my opinion statistics often slip people's minds anyways.

I'm not going to stand up here on this stage and tell you all that I lean to one side or the other on the mental illness vs. gun control debate. I'm not going to do that, because there isn't a side that I specifically fall into.

However, I am going to stand up here and preach that school and student safety should be our first priority.

I am sick and tired of seeing headlines that run across the tops of newspapers and the bottom of television screens that read "Mass Shooting," and I'm tired of thinking "no, not again" when I see them time after time. This has become a problem that is exhausting our nation. The heartbreak of school violence needs to stop.

As students, we are supposed to be worrying about the upcoming test, and keeping our grades up, homework, school dances, worrying about the weekend. We're not supposed to be wondering whether our not we're actually safe in our school.

In a school, students should never think "I hope I'm not in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Although ... violence can be homegrown.

Sometimes it's hard for students to make friends and fit into the mold of a specific friend group, and sometimes people have bad days. But even though another person is different than you, and you may not get along, please do NOT forget that the other person is a human too. Do not become so desensitized to your surroundings that you overlook another student's pain.

It's as simple as sitting with another student at lunch who is eating alone.

It's as simple as greeting another student in the hallway who always walks with his head down.

It's as simple as NOT BULLYING each other.

But if something seems out of place, or if you happen to see something -- I beg you -- please say something. If something seems off about another student, or you see someone outside of the school who looks questionable, please, speak up.

And teachers, administration, or any other adult (contacted) .... please listen. I do not mean listen and forget about it. I mean listen and take action.

School violence can be stopped. It's happened numerous times before. It takes ANY person to take action against the warning signs that are right in front of us.

You may not remember every person who you've crossed paths with throughout your life, but it's important to pay attention to those around you.

Take a moment to look to your left, then look to your right.

It may not seem like it, but you impact the lives of every single person around you.

It's crucial to be kind to the people around you, because you don't know what other people are going through. So, please don't let this frighten you, but use this time to be aware that there are things that you can do to help and stop cases that we see in the news from happening to us.

I think this is a great opportunity that Mr. D'Alleva and Mr. Kelahan have given us to speak our minds, make comments, and ask questions and concerns. If you have anything to say, there are microphones set up down below for you to speak into in a calm and orderly fashion. There is no "wrong" question, so don't be afraid to speak up. Maybe someone else has the same thought that you do.

Thank you for your time.

Photo in text: Amber Benjamin at the assembly.


© The Odessa File 2018
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869