In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I have observed the city of Parkland come together in a way that I have never seen in my seven years of living here. Driving through the quiet, dark residential streets of my hometown, I see stores and restaurants where I’ve made so many memories supporting us with banners, paintings, and ribbons.
On Wednesday, I returned to my school to see what seemed like hundreds of police officers, school administrators, and district personnel lined up outside the red gates and in the senior parking lot to greet students as they walked up. Publix donated countless boxes of cookies and bagels for us to enjoy, and teachers passed out the last of the candy from Valentine’s Day.
There were therapy dogs wandering campus, and comfort ponies outside the red gates. Notably, there was one comfort goat. Grief counselors were standing by in every class should there be any students who were anxious, upset, and distraught by returning to the scene of the incident.
Everyone is ready to help the Stoneman Douglas community. And I definitely appreciate the help. The support that MSD has received from around the nation and even around the world is incredible, and it is one of the reasons why I believe the students of Douglas can make a genuine change in this country.
However, it can also be overwhelming. It is hard to feel like you’re returning to normal when there are hundreds of different faces around campus that you don’t recognize. It is hard to feel like you’re going back to your home when there are official-looking people lined up in the same hallway where I used to sing off-key renditions of Top 100 pop songs.
And it’s not just me. Several of my friends and teachers have expressed something similar. It’s not necessarily the law enforcement that we have an issue with, because ultimately they are there to keep us safe. But all of the unfamiliar faces roaming the halls, filling the fields by Marjory’s Garden with cars … it’s overwhelming.
For the first day, the day when we are there to reclaim the nest, and to reunite with our teachers, staff, and classmates who we share this space with, it is completely understandable and appreciated by most of us to show support by being with us in that moment. But going forward, I hope that the district and the media allows us to resume some sense of normalcy, even if that is going to be a “new normal.”
I observed the intrusiveness of some local reporters this morning as I drove up to Douglas. A student was dropped off at the intersection, like a lot of other students, and was immediately approached by a woman with a notepad. The girl was smiling and she gave her answers, but it wasn’t that reporter’s place to approach random students on their first day back to school, especially when they don’t know what that particular person has gone through.
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Supt Runcie even had to ask that media stations not fly helicopters over our school.
Even after two weeks, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a dream every time I see Stoneman Douglas’ name next to Sandy Hook and Columbine. It feels like a nightmare every time I see the statistics on TV about us. It feels like we’ve become a spectacle, a beat, something that people look at like a movie. But we’re not in a movie. This is real life for us.
Stoneman Douglas is filled with human lives, and human stories, and every single one of the 3300 kids and the hundreds of other faculty have their own tale to tell in their own time.
Keep showing your support. Keep writing about us, keep tweeting about us, keep us in your hearts. But going forward, and I say this with all due respect, keep your distance, too.
Nikhita Nookala is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and member of the school's newspaper, The Eagle Eye. The views expressed in this piece are her own.