President Biden surprised the graduating seniors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Tuesday with a congratulatory message during their graduation ceremony. These graduates were freshmen when a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on students and staff and killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018. Of those 17, nine would have graduated with the class of 2021.
Biden acknowledged the hardships that the students have gone through during their high school years in his prerecorded speech from the East Room of the White House: “Three years ago your lives and the lives of this community changed in an instant, and this class lost a piece of its soul. You’ve been tested in ways no young person should ever have to face. From a freshman year, a year of unspeakable loss, to a junior and senior year upended by a pandemic.”
Biden emphasized the students’ quality of resilience, of “turning pain to purpose and darkness to light,” surviving not only the deadliest high school shooting in the history of the United States but also the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He continued to express the significant impact the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas have already made: “The world has already seen just how capable you are, how strong you are, how resilient you are. There's no question you're already changing the world. The 10 who should be with you today are changing the world alongside you as well.” (One other freshman class member later committed suicide.)
Following the 2018 shooting, many Parkland students became national advocates for gun control. Organized by Parkland alumni such as Cameron Kasky, David Hogg and X González, the student-led demonstration March for Our Lives became the largest single day of protest against gun violence in history. The group has since become a global movement with hundreds of chapters across the country that work to organize school walkouts, lobby for better safety measures and write legislation.
This was not the first time Biden acknowledged his support for the Parkland students. A day before the March for Our Lives rally in March 2018, he met with a few Parkland students and survivors, alongside Gabby Giffords, a gun control advocate and former congresswoman who survived a mass shooting.
Since entering office earlier this year, Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence and taken initial steps to combat what he has called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America. These steps include creating model “red flag” legislation for states that could allow family members to request restrictions on firearm sales, investing in community violence interventions and issuing an annual report on firearms trafficking.
Biden left the students with a message of hope: “I’ve never been more optimistic about our future than I am today.”
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