For students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site where 17 died at the hands of alleged mass shooter Nikolas Cruz, Wednesday was the first time many set foot in their classrooms in the two weeks since the shooting.
In the days leading up to the Parkland survivors’ arrival, high school principal Ty Thompson shared the faculty’s preparations on Twitter, writing that Wednesday’s focus would be on “emotional readiness,” not curriculum.
For several of these students—such as Emma González, whose tearful speech launched her and her peers’ movement March For Our Lives into virality; David Hogg, whose activism has been berated by right-wing conspiracy theorists, among them Infowars “truther” and mass-shooting denier Alex Jones; and Cameron Kasky, who held Florida Sen. Marco Rubio accountable at a CNN town hall for his donations received from the National Rifle Association—this day is exactly what they needed.
Several students prepared for the day back with a dose of inspiration from Marjory Stoneman Douglas herself, a suffragette who encouraged to “be a nuisance where it counts,” as well as inspiration from fellow students.
Matt Deitsch, an MSD student, shared a poem written by his sister and fellow student, 15-year-old Samantha, about the day of the shooting and the subsequent death of her friend Jamie Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed.
My sister turned 15 the day of the shooting.. She has had a hard time finding her voice in all of this and asked me to share this poem with you.— Matt Deitsch (@MattxRed) February 28, 2018
On the night before my sister returns to MSD, It would mean a lot if you could read her poem.#NeverAgain pic.twitter.com/3O4Z1knIuv
Activist Kasky prepared for the day and followed up by sharing his feelings of excitement and love on Twitter.
Douglas is amazing. It’s hard to think about the 17 empty seats that will never truly be filled again, but Stoneman Douglas filled them with love today.— Cam Kasky (@cameron_kasky) February 28, 2018
Others reckoned with the idea that, despite this return to normalcy, nothing will be the same again. Several mourned the loss of Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach who died shielding students from gunfire. Students recalled waving to Feis every morning as he greeted them on their drive into the senior parking lot.
I pray that today is the beginning of our long and difficult journey from grief, sorrow and anger to a new consciousness of hope, compassion and love. Thank you to our young people for leading the way. Welcome Back! #MSDStrong #NeverAgain pic.twitter.com/ytCNfMxwSe— Supt Runcie (@RobertwRuncie) February 28, 2018
The door I used to walk through every day now covered in a memorial. Welcome back, eagles. pic.twitter.com/ylJhp0gaAk— Alex Wind (@al3xw1nd) February 28, 2018
Thank you to everyone who came out from all over to welcome the students back to school! Thank you to the faculty, staff and administration for working to get the students back to school! We are blessed to have such a wonderful and supportive community. #ReclaimTheNest #MSDStrong pic.twitter.com/2PZMywU5A6— ChristineHunschofsky (@CHunschofsky) February 28, 2018
I waved to Coach Feis every morning when I drove into the senior lot, yet I didn't even know his name until he died. Today, after 4 years, I asked my crossing guard her name. Please let the people around you know how thankful you are. Thank you Coach Feis & thank you Barbara❣️— Carly (@car_nove) February 28, 2018
Who would’ve thought that something as simple as Coach Feis waving at us when pulling into the senior lot will be so beyond missed…— Stephany DeOliveira (@ohstephany_) February 28, 2018
And then, there was the “emotional readiness,” with students on campus tweeting about the support they received on their first day back—including cookies and therapy animals (like a goat!).
A three legged greyhound just came into my class. I’m in love.— Sarah Chadwick (@Sarahchadwickk) February 28, 2018
These dogs are so freakin helpful I’m in love pic.twitter.com/adxHvviRmR— Connor Dietrich// MSD Strong (@CDietrich1007) February 28, 2018
The only thing getting me through today are the dogs. pic.twitter.com/IyPvOYcQ3b— Jose Iglesias (@Jose_Iglesiass) February 28, 2018
My first period class with our borrowed therapy dog, Woody. pic.twitter.com/NcRkd2E9CA— Sarah Lerner, CJE (@mrs_lerner) February 28, 2018
And while the students’ return to normalcy meant easing back with some semblance of comfort, politicians such as Tallahassee, Florida Mayor Andrew Gillum and Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson recognized this was no “day off” from the students’ original call—to prevent a mass shooting like this from ever happening again.
There are some of us who choose to fight the NRA instead. Best wishes as you return to school today.— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) February 28, 2018
Thinking of everyone at Marjory Stoneman Douglas as they return to school today. Your courage and determination in wake of this tragedy has been tremendous; and we are all with you as you return to class today. #NeverAgain— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) February 28, 2018
H/T the Cut