16-year-old El Dorado junior Lauren Hibbert was about to get on a plane when she first heard the news that there had been a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“I remember being really angry. I remember talking to my mom about it because I didn’t really know what I could do about it and so she told me you can do something, but just being angry isn’t going to do anything,” said Hibbert.
Soon she was back home with her friends and fellow El Dorado classmates, juniors Ellen Burrell and Renee Beverly, making some 2,000 ribbons to show their support for the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The ribbons were the idea of their friend Caleigh Donnely, a student at Mater Dei High School.
These ribbons, made by around 15 people, took about 20 hours to make and were given out to students on El Dorado, Mater Dei, Valencia High School, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal Poly Pomona campuses.
The idea behind the ribbons was that “we could show our support as high school students for those that died in Parkland,” said Burrell.
The idea of participating and planning the walkout at El Dorado came about two weeks before March 14, the day dubbed #NationalSchoolWalkout, started by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER organization.
“At first we weren’t sure if we wanted to do it at El Dorado,” said Burrell. “But we actually had multiple people from El Dorado come up to us and say that they were really passionate about this and that they really wanted El Dorado to do something like this.”
The plan involved students walking out and gathering at the Theatron in the heart of the campus.
At 10 a.m. on March 14, hundreds of El Dorado students participated in a national walkout that an estimated 1 million American students took part in.
The walkout included a moment of silence, the reading of names of the seventeen who died in Parkland, and speeches given by Hibbert, Burrell and Beverly.
All three said the point of the walkout was to protest gun violence and not to specifically argue for gun control.
“We thought the best way to be effective and to be as inclusive as possible would be to keep politics out,” said Hibbert. “Which is why we didn’t advocate gun control which is an essential part to the walkout.
“We basically just wanted to promote student solidarity and unity as well as protesting gun violence without advocating for gun control.”
But not every student was interested in standing in solidarity with those participating in the walkout.
“People took our objective as protesting gun violence as if we wanted to take away all guns,” said Burrell.
“I thought there would be a lot of people and I figured there was going to be opposition as well but I wasn’t expecting the amount of opposition,” said Beverly. “There was a considerable amount of people in the back with Trump flags so that was kind of surprising to a degree but not entirely.”
The students in the back holding up Donald Trump flags and a “blue lives matter” flag were chanting “USA” and “NRA,” according to Burrell.
“I felt so into the moment and so passionate about what I was saying that it didn’t bother me because I felt like I was doing the right thing,” said Beverly, referring to the chants.
Hibbert expressed the desire to start productive conversations with the counter-protesters and involve them in upcoming events.
“I’m happy with the results,” said Burrell of the walkout. “I’m happy to be a part of a bigger cause, to be a part of a bigger movement.”
Students in the neighboring city of Brea also participated in the national walkouts.
According to Brea Olinda High School senior Bethann Conover, some 200 students walked out of their second period classes and headed to the flagpole with signs and ribbons.
Conover is behind the Brea Olinda walkout Instagram page that received backlash as soon as the first post went up.
“Students take action by doing nothing?” read one comment under its first post announcing the walkout.
“The public education obviously failed you libtards,” read another comment on a separate post.
1 million students may have taken part in the mass walkout but a quick look on social media reveals widespread backlash.
A separate Instagram account against the walkout at Brea Olinda was created shortly after Conover created her page.
Its first post was a screenshot taken from Conover’s page with a caption that read “They don’t support our right to bear arms. Let’s give them hell.”
It currently has more followers than the original Instagram page in support of the walkout.
The account, which calls itself a “small conservative page from Southern California” in its description, has devoted most of its posts to gun rights, responding to Conover’s page and has gradually turned into an account criticizing identity politics and other issues.
“It’s another senior and I was not surprised to see that there was something created. It was just very anger fueled and that was unfortunate,” said Conover.
Like Hibbert, Burrell and Beverly, Conover was shocked and outraged over the shooting in Parkland.
She created the Instagram account early in March after seeing students from other schools do the same.
“I never bothered to attach my name to it,” said Conover.
She wanted the account to be a place where students could get information.
Conover said there was an announcement that morning after the Pledge of Allegiance informing students that there would be a walkout and that students were expected to remain peaceful and follow school rules.
“They were actually pretty positive. I was pleasantly surprised,” Conover said about the school administration’s reaction. “Once they captured that it was happening they issued a statement saying that teachers couldn’t take out disciplinary action against students that wanted to participate in that and they would be present for safety but out of the students way.”
Conover said the reactions from students were “mixed with extremes on both ends.
“There was a pretty strong turnout, a strong level of support and people from both sides felt pretty strongly.”
She said the goal of the walkout was to promote “general participation and give people some kind of place to speak their minds.”
“That pro-gun voice is very, very loud at Brea and so giving them that place to say that that’s not all of us and just being a part of something bigger than our school [was important],” said Conover.
“I was kind of frustrated to see a lot of people were getting towards personal attacks against each other and questioning peoples character based on their opinion on the matter,” she continued.
Conover views the fact that the Instagram page she started has sparked conversations and debates as positive.
“I think there were some really good points made both ways,” she said.
Conover said the walkout was peaceful, quiet, and those participating observed a moment of silence for the victims who died in Parkland.
Six miles away from Brea Olinda, students at Fullerton Union High School spilled out of classrooms and descended onto the front lawn on the corner of Chapman Avenue carrying signs and chanting “enough is enough,” “stop the NRA,” and “our lives are worth more than your guns.”
Fullerton sophomore Victoria Whalen took the site in and was “ecstatic” to see the turnout.
Whalen is behind the fuhs_against_gun_violence Instagram page that she started less than a week after the Parkland shooting.
“It was really spontaneous but we had kind of a set plan of how we wanted it to go, said Whalen. “But then as soon as we got there It just hyped up. Everybody was just doing what they felt they needed to do in that moment.”
Some students began chants, others hopped on the shoulders of their classmates, some held signs and other students stood and watched from the second story of a school building that overlooks the street.
“I expected maybe 10 people at most for the memorial and repeating the student’s names at 10 a.m., but then as soon as it happened it was huge, like almost our whole school went out and people were just chanting,” said Whalen.
Whalen originally made the Instagram account as a social experiment of sorts to see if her classmates would be receptive to the idea of a walkout.
“I was really tempted to delete it because I wasn’t getting much support in the beginning but suddenly it just blew up and it got a lot of support from people,” she said.
Like in the case of El Dorado and Brea Olinda, the administration at Fullerton was supportive of students’ right to hold a walkout.
“That support from the school, it just made me really proud to be there,” said Whalen.
Whalen hoped the walkout proved that “even though we are students, we do have a voice and we do have opinions that we want to get heard and that’s what we got.”
The walkout at Fullerton, like El Dorado and Brea, was not met without critics.
“I feel like the most American and patriotic thing somebody can do is protest and speak about what they believe in,” Whalen said in response to the criticism.
Social media proved vital for all three walkouts.
“If we didn’t have social media there wouldn’t have been much of a walkout,” Conover said of the Brea walkout.
“It was extraordinary important,” Beverly said of the walkout at El Dorado. “Social media definitely unified students and made this a known event and it made the walkout so much more powerful because there were millions of students doing it with us.”
“Everything has to have a spark and everything has to have a beginning and thats what we’re doing. This is the beginning of something so much bigger,” said Whalen.
Indeed, the March 14 walkout was just the beginning.
On March 24, people will march once again in the nations capital and in cities all across America to protest gun violence, school shootings and political inaction.
And on April 20, the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, there will be a second national school walkout that will protest “our leaders’ failure to pass laws that protect us from gun violence.”
All students interviewed for this article expressed interest in getting involved in both.