High school graduation is a moment of reflection and anticipation - the recognition of accomplishments and capability. It also looks ahead to possibilities for the future.
Graduation day on Sunday for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Eagles was unlike any other in the nation. Just three-and-a-half months ago a mass shooter killed 17 people in the school, including four in the senior class: Nicholas Dworet, Meadow Pollack, Joaquin Oliver and Carmen Schentrup.
Four parents joined WLRN for a special program Monday called "Marjory Stoneman Douglas -- The Journey After Tragedy." Two parents of recently graduated seniors, Roberto Muñoz and Jeff Turner, reflected on what's next for their children while giving advice to two parents of incoming freshman at the high school, Pam Miller and Kelli Yselonia.
“[Graduation], it was intense. It was long. It was also very emotional. They gave some posthumous degrees to the students who were no longer there. And I don't think there was a dry eye in the audience during that moment,” Muñoz said.
“I thought it was very well handled. The organization was great," Turner chimed in. "It was very powerful, it was moving, it was emotional. You know, it was just great to see everybody kind of come together. You know, just one big big family. And ... that sendoff was perfect that way. I think that's exactly what everybody was hoping for.”
Pam Miller’s daughter, Alexis, is an incoming freshman. Kelli Yselonia’s daughter, Tierney, is also an incoming freshman.
“It's been a process. Ultimately the decision to go was because these are the people who understand what they went through. She talks to friends at other schools and they don't get it.” Yselonia said.
“I first always thought that she was going to go to Stoneman Douglas and then after a few weeks you know, you hear a lot of rumors and everything. And I spoke to my husband and made the decision. Okay, we need to look at other schools,” Miller said. “We decided that we were definitely going to stay stay put and now she is definitely going to be going there - and she's excited.”
The four parents reflected on an audio diary by Muñoz’s daughter, Leonor. He told a story about the two of them watching a movie together.
“What we did is this weekend [was] we rented Toy Story 3,” Muñoz said. “Spoiler alert for everyone, that story is about this kid that turned 17 and is moving to college. [The toys] are going to be burned - and in the scene the toys just look at each other and they hold hands. That's exactly the same thing she did when they were in lockdown in the auditorium. The only thing left to do between her and her friends was to hold hands. So I've been able to connect with my daughter on a very deep level and I'm very very blessed and grateful for the opportunity to connect with her before she leaves home.”
Turner said he shares that deep connection with his own daughter, Ashley.
“I think the bright part about having your children and going through that whole phase is watching their maturity come about. You don't want them to have to grow up so fast,” Turner said. “But you're also confident because you get to see that they can mature, and then they can become stronger and better, that kind of gives you the hope for them when they go off on their own to college and ... start fighting for their own future.”
Parents also discussed fears for the incoming students at Stoneman Douglas next fall:
“They're coming in as outsiders, like freshmen are always outsiders, but now even more so because they might feel a little more like, ‘You didn't go through it. You don't you don't know,’" Miller said. “That's my concern, that they will be welcome.”
“I would say just encourage her to participate as much as she can and extracurriculars," Muñoz encouraged Miller and Yselonia. "There are lots and lots of clubs out there. She's going to find people like her in two days, because when you go to the school, it's easy to get lost in a sea of 30, 300 students. But when you go to that club it's just the 10, 15, 20 that are just like you."
There was a defining moment at graduation when the administration told the class of 2018 that this moment is their opportunity. Muñoz disagreed:
"It's been so for the past four months,” Muñoz said.