Pekin Community High School students left their classrooms this morning at 10 a.m. and observed several minutes of silence in the hallways, many with heads bowed, and then released 17 blue balloons in honor of the students who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The service was organized by two sophomore students, Brogan Gresham and Reilly Nelson. The two students wanted PCHS’s event to be different than others planned for the day around the nation.

“A lot of the schools nationwide are using this to protest to support gun control, but we’re focusing mainly on respecting and honoring those who lost their lives in the shooting this past February,” said Gresham. “... I’m calling it a memorial, kind of.

“We wanted to be heard. It hurts everybody when a tragedy like this happens. No matter how far away it is, it hurts all of us. Our motto that we’re using is that ‘We Stand Together,’ so we all work together to hopefully create a greater good.”

Gresham said school violence has moved her to be more positive and to listen to people when they are down “and having a rough day in the hallway.”

Nelson said that the students honor everybody that has been involved in any act of school violence. She said it’s important to “raise awareness for the fact that there is this senseless act of violence that is being continued and there’s not that much being done to stop it. There’s so many innocent lives being lost, and they deserve so much better than what they’ve been given.”

“I really hope that everybody, even if they choose not to stand with us, they get out of (it) the fact that we as a school family are so connected together that we are willing to honor these people, and we’re standing in solidarity and unity together,” said Nelson.

A banner was provided at PCHS for students to sign that says “We Stand Together” with the hashtags of #dragonpride, #PCHSwithDouglas, #notonemore. 

PCHS Superintendent Danielle Owens said the students desire to do something to honor the victims was an opportunity for the high school. 

“We felt this was a great opportunity to allow our students to do something positive in a ‘stand in’ versus a ‘walk out,’” said  Owens. “I think this, once again, shows the empathy and compassion our students have for those who have been affected by tragedy.

“In addition it is a chance for our students and staff to stand together against school violence, something that no one should have to worry about at school but, in this day and age, is ever present in our thoughts and actions. In that same vein, we know that our students and staff are key players in keeping our school safe. We encourage them to continue to be aware and, if they see or hear something concerning, to say something to us.”

After the service was completed, Nelson said the event had meaning.

“I feel like the spirit of the school, it just feels closer and more unified as a student body and like we’re more embracing everything that we know that we can accomplish,” she said. “Now we know the opportunity is so real for us, especially knowing each day that we are able to come together and fight for our cause that is so important now.

“I think everyone should carry (this fight) to wherever they go because it’s not just revolving around just one person or one cause. It’s about our whole community — no matter where you live, where you go to, if you go to college or don’t go to college — it still travels with you, and it’s going to be important.”

Grehsam said, “I don’t think that the fight will ever be over until there is peace at every school, so we’re going to continue working toward that goal every day.”

According to the Associated Press, nearly 3,000 protests were held nationwide involving elementary to college level students at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. Some planned roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others were to hold demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Georgia and Ohio, students said they’ll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.

The coordinated walkouts were loosely organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year. The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting — and suggested demands for lawmakers, including an assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.