Hanover Students: ‘Never Again’

  • Sydney Read, 15, center left, and Zofia Zerphy, 16, center right, both of Hartland, and Mia Manheimer, of Norwich, right, raise their voices in a chant with their Hanover High School classmates during a walkout calling for gun control in Hanover, N.H., Friday, March 9, 2018. Students left their classes at 2:19 p.m. to listen to their local legislators speak about gun safety and schools since the shooting in Parkland Florida, then marched to the Post Office to mail over 1,500 post cards to lawmakers asking for stronger gun control. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Greg Moulton, of Hanover, fills out a form at the the Post Office in Hanover, N.H., as Hanover High School students carrying boxes of over 1,500 post cards written to ask legislators for stronger gun control arrived in the midst of a walkout Friday, March 9, 2018. The students, from left, are Sarah Bozuwa, 18, of Norwich, Ella Chapman, 17, of Hanover, Maggie Kohl, 17, of Hanover, and Sage McGinley-Smith, of Norwich. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Post cards carrying messages of support for stronger gun control and addressed to legislators were heaped on the counter of the Post Office in Hanover, N.H., by students who walked out of class at Hanover High School Friday, March 9, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High School students were addressed by local legislators before marching into downtown Hanover, N.H., Friday, March 9, 2018, raising their voices in favor of stronger gun control laws in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 09, 2018

Hanover — Hanover High School students walked out of class on Friday afternoon to join a wave of youth activism that has been demanding action on school safety from adults since the killings of 17 students and staff last month in a Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

More than 250 students — at least a third of the school — poured onto Lebanon Street at 2:19 p.m., the time when a 19-year-old man arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, intent on killing his former teachers and classmates with an AR-15 rifle he had legally purchased.

Ella Chapman, a 17-year-old junior from Hanover, said she and a group of five or six other students had helped organize the march as a way of telling adults that, as a society, “We’re no longer going to sit idly by and do nothing.”

So rather than sit, the students walked, in a line that wrapped around street blocks, chanting “Never again,” “We want change,” and “We are the future.” They carried boxes filled with hundreds of postcards written by area students that asked lawmakers to take action.

Several of Hanover’s legislators — all Democrats — addressed the march before it set out, including state Reps. Polly Campion and Mary Jane Mulligan.

To wild cheers, state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, told the crowd that she recently had introduced an amendment to a New Hampshire Senate bill that would give area school boards the power to decide whether guns are allowed on their campuses — a subject of contention in the Republican-led Legislature.

“I am so impressed and so pleased to see how many of you are out here today for such an important cause,” Hennessey said.

As the marchers headed up Lebanon Street to South Main Street, where they would deliver their letters to the post office, they chanted the gun reforms they wanted to see, including universal background checks on firearms sales and a legal purchase age of 21.

“Do better than we did!” shouted Betsy McClain, the town of Hanover’s director of administrative services, who cheered on the crowd along with other town officials from the corner of Lebanon and South Main streets.

Kate Zegans, an 18-year-old senior, said her generation has grown up with the fear of school shootings looming over them as they practiced safety drills in their classrooms. She also noted that Hanover High, with its competitive, high-pressure atmosphere, could do with more support for students’ mental health, as well.

“This has been our reality for as long as we’ve been alive,” she said. “We’re just now realizing that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Thousands of teenagers across the country have come to that realization in the weeks since the Parkland shooting, whose survivors almost immediately began advocating for safety reforms, including gun control.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Vermont high schoolers and middle schoolers, including some from the Upper Valley, marched on Montpelier to demand legislative action after an 18-year-old Fair Haven, Vt., man was arrested and charged with a plot to shoot up his former high school.

More students are planning walkouts in this region and elsewhere on Wednesday, exactly one month after the shooting in Florida.

In contrast to some educational institutions’ resistance to student protests, schools in the Upper Valley largely have voiced support.

Hanover High Principal Justin Campbell on Thursday notified parents of the students’ plans, calling them “entirely in keeping with our school’s philosophical underpinnings.”

“I’m proud that our students are using their voices to seek change,” he said in an email.

Earlier this month, Dartmouth College announced that prospective students would not face any admissions repercussions for participating in demonstrations at their high schools.

“Dartmouth supports active citizenship and applauds students’ expression of their beliefs,” administrators said in social media posts. “Participation in peaceful protest in no way jeopardizes your admission to Dartmouth, even if you are disciplined or suspended. Speak your truth.”

Some Hanover High teachers and staffers marched in support of the students, including Joe Stallsmith, a counselor who said that, like students, educators have developed a constant awareness of the possibility of school shootings.

He made a face somewhere between a grin and a grimace when asked about President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers as a way to stop classroom massacres.

“Thanks — no,” he said.

State legislators on Friday encouraged the student demonstrators to keep up their activism, and Mason Winter, one of the organizers, said he and peers planned to do so. The 17-year-old junior said he hoped to bring experts to school to speak about gun violence, along with more legislators.

“We hope this isn’t the end of the discussion,” Winter told the crowd as the march concluded. “It’s totally just the beginning.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.