Do Something

Do Something
Isabella Wright, Knox Greene and Gaby Diaz

School shootings rouse a variety of reactions from prayers to protests. In Jacksonville, thanks to one young woman, a high school is reaching out to victims through the power of the pen.

Episcopal School students befriend Parkland students through pen pal mission

It was Aristotle who said “good habits formed at youth make all the difference” and students at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville are certainly a good example of young people who are forming the habit of reaching out to others in need and “doing something.”

Through the Pen Pal Mission project started by freshman Gaby Diaz, Episcopal students have been able to connect with peers in South Florida who faced the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Diaz, who loves to write, turned to writing as a way to cope with her feelings after the horrific event in Parkland and said she was first inspired to do something by two specific lyrics from an Elton John song, “Candle In the Wind.” She then wrote a piece titled “17 Candles In the Wind.”

“I remember feeling awfully scared and worried as my mind pondered several questions per minute,” Diaz explained after hearing about the Parkland shooting.

“And then it dawned upon me that there are kids exactly like me who were even more scared. There were kids exactly like me who lost their best friend today; there were kids exactly like me who lost hope in all humanity today,” she said.

“I tried to put myself to bed that night, but I just couldn’t – not until I could find a way to shed a light on the good of humanity in a world that just seemed to consume evil,” she continued.

Diaz has further used the power of the pen, or the keyboard, to coordinate a group of students at Episcopal to write to Parkland students. The letters are given to a Stoneman Douglas High representative who distributes the correspondence to classmates who wish for a pen pal, Diaz explained.

“I made this pen pal group to show that we can put pride aside to come together, heal our wounds and speak our true voices through developing a relationship,” she said. “I wanted to advocate my generation’s voice for change through the kindling relationship of two humans, who were complete strangers at first glance.”

Diaz said she also provides specific topic ideas for the pen pals, in what she likes to call “sentimental building blocks,” as a way for students to connect.

“For those who are perplexed about what to write, but yet still hold a passion, I mainly emphasize to them to speak their true opinions and reveal unconditional support,” Diaz said.

Writing for change

Diaz’ classmate, Isabella Wright, of St. Nicholas, also shares a passion for wanting to make a difference for their peers.

“With this pen pal group, we – as teenagers – can allow our voices to be heard and read – important for this generation as we let our voices take action,” said Wright. “In the letters, we can write whatever’s on our mind, knowing we are in caring hands and there is always someone else there for us in the hardest times.”

“Especially for the students of Parkland, we can walk through this hard time with them, every step of the way, and fill them with comfort as they know there is someone their exact age there for them with the ability to communicate about anything,” she continued.

In addition to writing to their pen pals in Parkland, Episcopal students also showed their support for their peers at Stoneman Douglas as they assembled on campus for 17 minutes during the March 14 national walkout. The Episcopal students ended the event with a moment of silence for the Stoneman Douglas students who lost their lives. 

“Writing these letters has opened my eyes to all sorts of opinions and ideas, while also instilling a perpetuating fight for change through the connection with one of your friends,” said Diaz.

“Personally, the best part is knowing you’re not the only one desperate for change and someone is there for you. I hope we can stimulate these same emotions and feelings for students at Douglas,” she said.

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