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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Smells like teen spirit

It’s hard to put into words really. The emotion and the circumstance all melding into one. On its face, it could be any summer party. Loud summer music washed over the park, wafting its way between dancing people and under tents that had been set up in futile attempts to block out the harsh New Mexican sun. About 150 people sat, stood, talking, laughing, sprawled on sheets that been spread over the grass of the park. A sense of waiting was among the crowd, but there was no real way of knowing why all of these people were gathered together on this afternoon.

That’s not entirely true. Near the front of the crowd and past all of the people, a mural of a sad yet defiant young woman looked out. Below her electric blue eyes read the words “New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence.” The mural was completed by several high school students, all of their lives impacted by gun violence in some capacity. This work of art was a centerpiece for the main event: a rally at which survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting were going to speak.

Let me take a brief step back. I am a sophomore here at Notre Dame and double majoring in economics and political science. I live in the passionate, ruggedly beautiful state of New Mexico and this past summer I had an internship with Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic frontrunner in the election for state governor. Over the course of this internship, I had the chance to catch a glimpse into the process of politics — from attending rallies on the border issues and meeting the senators of New Mexico to working with and hearing the stories of extraordinary “everyday” men and women.

Attending the rally to hear the survivors of Parkland speak was absolutely one of the most moving experiences I have had in my entire life, let alone summer. To experience the horrors that these young heroes did on Feb. 14, horrors I cannot even begin to fathom and yet face our nation’s youth more than any country in the world, and have the strength and willpower to stand in front of crowds of people and believe in the power of their voice, was profoundly powerful to me. It shows the impact our generation can have when we set our minds to something with abandon.

I admit I was slightly confused after the event had ended, however. With the weight of so much pain and loss in the background, how could people laugh and have a good time, swaying to music and enjoying the afternoon with friends?

I find that one of the most beautiful things about life is the contrast that is inherent to so much around us. And it is in that spirit that the words of one the speakers stays with me even today. The victims of school shootings will never be forgotten. Ever. But it is the memory and spirit of those heroes who will never receive their high school diploma that bonds us together. Pain, suffering, grief. A crowd of people gathered together one afternoon as one being. Stories and poems about the tragic events on Feb. 14. But a profound hope that change is tangibly possible when people look past their differences and join together. That’s why summer music played loudly from speakers not too far from a mural commemorating victims of gun violence. In the syncopation and rhythm of Drake and Maroon 5, the Parkland survivors were saying that this was the start of something powerful and impactful. Something to celebrate.

I want to clarify that pain and grief can never truly be forgotten. This is not a partisan article, but it can unilaterally be said that our nation bleeds with every life changed by gun violence. The point I am trying to say is that when people band together, united by the grief in the human story and the simultaneous drive to do something, something beautiful is born. This is what I witnessed unfolding during that rally, and it is a powerful example that extends to all college youth.

Finding our voices is a lifelong journey that manifests itself in different ways for different individuals. But the important takeaway here is that we have a voice and it matters. The Parkland survivors are a powerful testament to this, and their example also shows the power of young blood and the human voice. Even if you feel like your voice is lost in a wilderness or falls upon deaf ears, keep expressing. A single voice might be impossible to distinguish from a chorus, but a bit of the melody falters when its sound is taken away

Those 150 people watching and listening the survivors of the Parkland shooting speak was one section of a larger chorus of voices that is striving to make a difference. No matter what side of the political aisle you are on, no matter what your creed, religion, or outlook on life is, we are all united by the drive of the human spirit. I can tell you now that in those 150 hearts and minds burned the fire to power an entire engine of social change. I’ve found my words and let’s act on them together. 150 hearts beating out the same pulse. The desire to do something and the ability to do anything if we put our minds together.

Smells like teen spirit.

Gabriel Niforatos is a sophomore who has diverse interests ranging from political science to music. When he's not at school, he is busy hiking and running in the New Mexico mountain range. His email is

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.