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Spurred to act over shootings, graduating seniors promise to 'save the world'

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 6/5/2018 By Diane Smith, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

a group of people posing for the camera: Alanna Miller speaks to those gathered at a memorial for those killed and injured in the Santa Fe school shooting, organized by Southlake students Miller and Katie Silverman, at the Southlake Town Square Fountain on May 18, 2018.

Alanna Miller speaks to those gathered at a memorial for those killed and injured in the Santa Fe school shooting, organized by Southlake students Miller and Katie Silverman, at the Southlake Town Square Fountain on May 18, 2018.
© Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS

SOUTHLAKE, Texas - Katie Silverman's school colors are Southlake Carroll's trademark green, white and black, but on graduation night, she planned to also wear some burgundy and silver to honor the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

The 18-year-old is part of the 712 seniors who graduated Friday at Carroll's Dragon Stadium. Her commencement comes as she embraces a personal calling to fight for gun reform and safer schools - activism inspired by 17 lost lives in Parkland, Fla., where she once lived.

"Four seniors died," said Silverman, who wore a Stoneman Douglas graduation pin during her commencement. "That was really shocking - two of which were my friends."

Silverman attended middle school with Meadow Pollack and Joaquin Oliver, both of whom were shot and killed by the gunman.

Silverman's connections to Florida moved her to take part in a school walkout, March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., and a rally in downtown Dallas near the National Rifle Association's convention even as she juggled school work. While she has been described as quiet, she has transformed into an outspoken activist, going before elected leaders and taking media interviews.

"She has always been a quiet activist," said her mother, Lisa Silverman. "Parkland has really changed her from an introvert to now wanting to change the world."

Nationwide, as students of Stoneman Douglas took center stage to push for gun reform, other young people were inspired to stand up, too. Students in Tarrant County - a large urban center described in recent years as "Big Red" because of its strong conservative political base - also joined the movement.

Student activists stepped into the national discussion on gun reform and school security, including high school seniors who promise to continue this work in college or the workforce.

Before starting classes at the University of Texas at Dallas, Silverman heads back to Florida where she planned to attend the Stoneman Douglas graduation ceremony on Sunday. The trip is a graduation present from her parents, who have seen how focused Silverman has become in her journey to push for safer schools.

"She was crying when we told her what we planned as there was nowhere she would rather be on June 3 than with her Parkland friends," said Lisa Silverman.

'Our outrage will not fade'

In the days after the Parkland shooting, students in Texas began getting involved. They started Twitter accounts, they wore orange as a symbol for gun reform and they planned walkouts. Student activists emerged in cities, suburbs and towns, including Fort Worth, Southlake and even Alpine in West Texas.

Gallery by photo services

Nationwide, many student walkouts took place on or around the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. In North Texas, organizing these events required some diplomacy on the part of students who approached school leaders. At Fort Worth Eaton, a high school in the Northwest school district, the event turned chaotic after a student displayed a Confederate flag.

Jordan Vine, the graduating senior who planned that event, said gun reform will be an ongoing fight for her.

"I see myself going forward as an activist at my new campus. I plan to major in forensic psychology and political science and hopefully one day run for a political office position," Vine said, adding: "I think this generation is going to save the world."

Days after Eaton's walkout garnered so much attention, Haniyah Burney, an 18-year-old senior at Byron Nelson High School, helped organize another walkout in nearby Trophy Club. Burney heads to Stanford University and she is taking her activism with her.

"If we move on from the cause, we essentially prove to politicians that they can get away with turning a blind eye toward gun violence - we as constituents have to show them that our outrage will not fade, and that their actions hold long term consequences."

Dakota Rudzik, a student activist who graduated from Keller Central, said he will study political science in college. He said he plans to run for political office someday. He too will continue to push gun reform.

"I can't stop until we don't have to worry about the children anymore," he said.

SaJade Miller, principal at Fort Worth's Dunbar High School, said gun violence is an everyday concern for his students, and the school is their safe haven. When they walked out this spring, the students were exercising a newly found collective voice.

"It started with voting and it came to the walkout," Miller said, recalling how students marched, prayed and then went back to class peacefully.

Miller said student activists from Dunbar and Carroll high schools are coming to the issues of gun reform and school safety from different communities and perhaps grow stronger when they meet at colleges.

"Although we are from different sides of the Metroplex, we all have problems," Miller said. "The problems are just different."

On May 18, another school shooting broke Katie Silverman's heart. In Texas, 10 people were killed in a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School.

"My Parkland friends should not have to text me in panic asking if I'm OK since they do not know what school I attend," Katie Silverman told the Star-Telegram on May 18. "I am so frustrated that this keeps happening over and over again. Santa Fe, I stand with you, with Parkland and with all the other schools who have been affected by senseless gun violence."

Katie Silverman and members of the newly formed Students Demand Action in Southlake quickly helped organize a vigil on May 18.

"We are all students," she said. "We all go to school and we all want to be safe."

Katie Silverman said her work continues with plans to establish a Students Demand Action organization at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is majoring in neuroscience.

The group is also working with local Moms Demand Action members to organize a National Wear Orange day on June 2 to commemorate victims of gun violence. Also on her agenda is urging more young people to register to vote. Katie Silverman has already voted in a school board race and a runoff election.

The young activist said the focus is on safety, not taking away anyone's right to have arms.

"We are just trying to get the guns out of the wrong people's hands," she said.

During her Florida trip, Katie Silverman planned to visit the grave of Meadow Pollack and talk with Parkland activists about how she can focus her activism in Texas.

"For me, the passion is never going to go away," she said.

(This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.)

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