When I started classes at Stern on my first day of Summer Start in July 2016, I didn’t tell anyone that I was from Parkland, FL. I’ve been through this before while living in St. Louis, Columbus, and Philly. You hear the traditional “what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do” questions. No one has ever heard of Parkland, FL. This makes sense-it’s a tiny town next to the Everglades with a population of 32,000. It’s much easier to say that I’m from “South Florida” or “Outside Ft. Lauderdale” or “Close to Boca Raton.” When my parents moved from Boston to Parkland, my grandma used to tease my dad and say “none of my friends have ever heard of Parkland.” To that, my dad said “good, let’s keep it that way.” Of course, everything changed on February 14, 2018. Now, the whole world has heard of Parkland, FL.
I lived in Parkland, FL from ages 3-19, so I basically experienced my entire childhood and adolescent life there. The entire city is 14 square miles, so I find it even strange to call it a city. I went to private school in Ft. Lauderdale from Pre-K to 12th grade, so I never attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas or the local elementary/middle school. However, all of my neighbors and friends from my temple went to Douglas. I trained for middle school basketball tryouts at the Douglas track and went to basketball day camp at the Douglas gymnasium during winter breaks. Before I had a car, my friends and I would walk a mile to the local movie theater, close to Douglas, to hang out on weekends. When I was practicing for my driver’s test, I drove around the parking lot near Douglas. A few of my friends’ parents served as teachers or administrators at Douglas. Although I didn’t attend Douglas as a student, I and all Parkland residents had a connection to the school.
On February 14, 2018, I was working at the front desk at Stern’s Office of Career Development when someone told me there was a shooting at a school in Florida. My first thoughts went to my cousins: I have a cousin in 8th grade in Boca Raton, and my other cousin is a freshman at Florida State University in Tallahassee. However, when I opened CNN, I could not believe my eyes. Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, FL. I almost thought I was looking at local news. Parkland, on CNN? This must be a mistake. No one has ever heard of Parkland.
By the time I started processing what was going on, I was receiving texts from friends/family all over, checking in. I just couldn’t believe it was happening.
It’s really hard to even write about or explain what it felt like. I really hope no one else ever has to experience it.
As cliché as it sounds, I felt a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings the next few days. I wasn’t myself at school and felt completely disconnected from Stern-my classes, my business school friends, or anything else. Figuring out what I was planning to do after receiving my degree from Stern now seemed trivial, and I just wanted to be in Florida to do something for the community. For the majority of the next week, I was extremely confused. Parkland was voted the safest city in Florida. Parkland is a town of 32,000 people. Parkland is my home. How could this happen in my home? A place where I experienced so much joy as a child. As a teenager. Basketball games, birthday parties, sleepovers, homecomings, proms, graduations, town parades. Parkland almost seemed like this safe haven where everything was going to be okay. It suddenly turned into my worst nightmare.
My Facebook newsfeed is still flooded with stories, pictures, and information about the victims. It seems like everyone I knew from Parkland knew someone who was killed or injured in the shooting. Reading the stories of parents and friends of these individuals was challenging and heart-breaking. I can’t imagine how the students and teachers who were present on that day and survived felt. I’m almost certain many will be suffering from PTSD after witnessing it. I cannot imagine having to return to a place after watching that tragedy unfold there weeks earlier.
The following weekend, my sister and I headed to our house in Philadelphia (our family relocated when I was in undergrad). Driving home from the train station, we saw a “Pray for Parkland” sign on the outskirts of Philly. We all began tearing up a bit. At home, we would turn on the TV to see George Stephanopoulos and Anderson Cooper report from the two main intersections of Parkland; my parents seemed a bit more shaken up than me and my sister. From this day forward, my mom claims that gun control is now her number one voting issue, and this tragedy has made her want to become politically more involved.
Another strong feeling that I felt was guilt. I now knew what the communities of Sandy Hook and Columbine felt. Of course, I have always been devastated to hear about shootings across the country, but I never felt as torn apart until it happened to my small community in Parkland. It feels selfish to say it out loud, but it is my truth. I feel guilty that I wasn’t sadder, angered, or politically active when it happened to a community that wasn’t my own. I can’t change the past, but I know that I am now forever changed in how I think, empathize, and act.
As I finish this article, there are a lot of things that I’m still struggling with as I process a tragedy that shook my hometown. One thing that I know for sure: I could not be prouder to be from Parkland, FL, after seeing the call to action from the incredible students and community. In two weeks, Parkland students created a movement through March for Our Lives, raised millions of dollars for the community and the march, convinced advertisers to break ties with the NRA, and much more. These students and my community faced an unfathomable tragedy; but the strength in these very individuals is utterly inspiring. Parkland will forever be my hometown-and I’m proud to call it so, as my community leads our country to take the steps necessary to make the world a bit safer for all of us.