A Single Balloon Changed My Point of View


Carly Killorin, Guest Writer

Never did I ever think that the popping sound of a balloon mimicked the sound of a gunshot. In December of my freshman year, my friends and I brought a promotional balloon we got from Yogurtland during lunch back to the Arapahoe High School cafeteria. We maneuvered through the crowd and sat at a five-sided table. An administrator quickly approached us and confiscated our balloon. Confused why it had been taken from us, the principal explained that if it would have burst, people would think it was a shooting.

Four years ago, on December 13th, 2013, Karl Pierson walked into Arapahoe High School with the intention of killing his speech and debate coach, the librarian, Tracy Murphy, and any student in his path. He shot and killed Claire Davis, then himself. I was only an eighth grader at the time, but his shots echoed through the community.

Some blamed the school security, others guns, or mental illness. Students asked themselves: How could I have prevented this? Why did this happen at my school? In the wake of these horrors, an uplifting and guided movement, named #ChooseToLove was born.

#ChooseToLove encouraged students and faculty to fit random acts of kindness into their busy lives and to understand that being mean to others is overrated. But for me, an incoming freshman, it served as a reminder to be more aware of the pain others might be going through. A reminder that what is seen on the surface is not necessarily the full story. A reminder to never bring balloons into school, to never kick a locker, and to never forget the impact December 13th had on others.

If the student activism at Parkland has taught us anything, it’s that we are capable of making a change.

As many people are aware, 17 students were murdered in the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas on February 14th, a day dedicated to telling people how much you love them. Once again, in the aftermath, a movement was created, #NeverAgain. Dedicated to lobbying for stricter gun control laws, the activism of the Parkland students has led to nationwide school walkouts, protests, marches, and will hopefully lead to reform.

Oddly enough, on Wednesday, February 14th, the morning before the Parkland tragedy,  I was walking through the cafeteria with my teacher when we heard a startling POP! Within a matter of seconds, my teacher jumped towards the exit and held his hand to his heart. His face was overwhelmed with panic. After the scare, we looked over to see a young girl, maybe a freshman or sophomore, laughing at the balloon that had just burst in her hands.

In complete silence, my teacher and I walked back to his office. He apologized for being so shaken, but I knew that the trauma from four years earlier had viciously re-entered his life. She had no idea the chain reaction she had just set off.

At first, I was furious with the young girl for popping the balloon and for the lack of guilt on her face. Then I remembered that four years ago, though my balloon didn’t pop, I was in her shoes. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn from my clueless mistake, but four years later, her mistake wasn’t even a mistake at all. She never lived in a school where December 13th was discussed. I questioned if she even knew that it had happened. After all, for our student-led walkout against gun violence on the one month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, my classmates didn’t even congregate near Claire Davis’ memorial or mention our school’s experience with gun violence.

To be honest, when I saw panic stretch across my teacher’s face, I had forgotten about December 13th. I forgot the struggles of my friends who graduated just one year before and the fear that every teacher in the building faces every day when they choose to come to work. How could I forget something so important? Then I realized, that everyone was determined to forget. Arapahoe administrators did everything in their power to return to normalcy, plus adding a few more security kiosks and locked doors. That trend is still followed to this day. Three suicides in the past two years were burned into the high school memories of their friends and family, but largely ignored by a whole community. Also, hidden in my own Twitter feed, I found an archived tweet “#ChooseToLove.”

A father of a Parkland victim encouraged students to “walk up” in addition to “walking out.” Students were encouraged to bridge the gap between themselves and a stranger. Although some see this as a diss against gun control, I am reminded of Arapahoe’s #ChooseToLove movement. Instead of creating a bigger divide between us about whether we agree with gun control or not, we need to choose to face  adversity, listen to opposing opinions, be inclusive of all, and build a foundation rather than “casting any stones.”

If the student activism at Parkland has taught us anything, it’s that we are capable of making a change. Whether it’s participating in a protest or saying “hi” to a stranger in the hallway, our voices and actions can make a real difference in people’s lives.