Open Letter on Student-Led Mass Demonstrations

Be the change we want to see in the world. – Mahatma Ghandi

Today, I have been very humbled watching the March For Our Lives protests in Washington D.C. and throughout the world, feeling so much pride in our youth and hope for our future. Following the Parkland shooting in Florida, a little over a month ago, I wrote a statement describing how we had failed our young by not providing safe school environments. It was a call for our legislators to take action. While that remains true, our youth responded with action, with leadership, with wisdom and with grace.

Never underestimate the youth in our schools, on our college campuses, in our country and the world. They are teaching us daily about compassion, about unity, about civil rights, about privilege, about discrimination, about love, about anger, and quite frankly, about what really matters in our lives. Like the Bellarmine students, these students inspire me to try to be a better person, a more authentic leader, a better mother, a better sister, and a better friend. I hope to be a person with much more compassion for those different than myself, with different needs, and facing different experiences. I need to understand the human condition and I need to work to improve the lives of others. The road is not easy and the challenges are great, but each of us has a responsibility to respond to these young people and the world they yearn to see.

These young people followed the guidance of Mahatma Ghandi, to “be the change you want to see in the world.” They handled their grief and trauma from the loss of their classmates and the violation of their safety by organizing, speaking out and inspiring a nation and countries throughout the world. They advocate peaceful resistance and legislative action. They challenge us and our generation of leaders who neglected our responsibilities to challenge the country, and more specifically the congress, to demand action to make our schools and our communities safe. These students are fearless. We should be fearless as well.

Our youth has grown up with safety drills, with violence in our cities, and in recent decades with mass shootings. They have a right to be angry but they have channeled their anger. They have made their mark as leaders who advocate for change in laws and policies affecting safety in our schools and our communities. Their commitment is unwavering and unifying.

We can learn so much from their words, actions, music and meaningful silence. The question is, will we learn? Will we be the change that we want to see in this world?

Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D.
Bellarmine University President