A few minutes before 10 a.m., Principal Dan Greenough’s voice crackled over the Pendleton High School PA system.
He told students that they were about to watch a short video that would act as a launch for the “What’s Your 17?” campaign, a school-wide event that would ask students to perform daily acts of kindness for 17 days. He presented it as an alternative to the 17-minute walkouts that were happening across the country to commemorate the 17 victims at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland Florida, and in protest of gun violence in more than 2,800 schools nationwide, according to the Associated Press.
“Instead of walking out, I ask you to do something that will have a lasting impact,” he said.
But shortly after Greenough signed off, more than 50 students walked past the administrative offices, through the front door and gathered by the flagpole near the main entrance.
They held signs with messages like “Am I next?” and “Arm teachers with pencils, not with guns,” but they otherwise kept a funereal silence at the outset.
After seven minutes, senior Journey Hahn emerged to speak to the crowd as the sniffles that occasionally punctured the quiet turned into tears and sobs.
“We’re tired of being scared of going to school,” she said.
Following another period of silence, freshman Zion Waugh addressed the audience with the support of a few friends.
She talked about how she was sometimes given tests that asked her if she felt safe in school, a question she never hesitated to answer affirmatively. But after the events in Parkland, she wasn’t sure how she would answer the question.
During the entirety of the protest, the kids were under the watch of assistant principal Troy Jerome, who spent most of the time by the summit of the school’s main driveway. A Pendleton police officer cruised by the flagpole a few times in his vehicle before stationing himself between Jerome and the students.
A man in a car drove up the driveway and told Jerome he wanted to “hear what they had to say.” But Jerome said they weren’t speaking and the man eventually drove away.
Anita Crawford walked up to the students with her dog and praised them for taking action.
“I love guys and I don’t even know you,” she said, eliciting a few quiet thank yous from the students.
Jim Willis stood with the students for the entire 17 minutes, the only non-student to participate in the protest.
After the event ended, Willis said he had children and grandchildren who attended Pendleton High School and he stood in solidarity with the students to put pressure on federal lawmakers to change gun laws. With enough grassroots pressure, he said there was a chance it could happen.
As the clock drew closer to 10:17 a.m., more students tried to make their own speeches as Greenough hopped back onto the PA to encourage students to participate in “What’s Your 17?”
In the final moments before students began to walk back toward the main entrance, it was difficult to hear either Greenough or the students as their messages overlapped.