“We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”
David Hogg, student journalist at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, speaking on CNN after the shooting at his school.
Out of the tragedy of the recent shootings at the Florida high school, we have seen how young people can show us all how to be great presenters. Amidst the emotion of their grief and the passion for their cause, we have met Emma Gonzales, Cameron Kasky, Tyra Hemans, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, and a cohort of students who are using public speaking opportunities to demand change in our country’s gun control laws.
It’s hard to miss them. We see them every time we turn on the TV—on Meet the Press, Anderson Cooper 360, PBS NewsHour, and even Ellen, not to mention their ongoing presence on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. They have traveled en masse to the Florida State Capitol, where they met with their elected representatives and their governor. And they brought their voices to the CNN Town Hall forum, where they directly challenged the positions of their politicians—including Senator Marco Rubio—and sounded a lot more authentic and believable than the adults who are supposed to be leading our government. (Senator Rubio, however, deserves plenty of credit for his appearance—he listened, he maintained his composure and spoke eloquently under difficult circumstances.)
These students are showing us that you don’t have to be an adult to be a great public speaker. You just need passion for your cause and the courage to speak out. And their energy is generating results: as the students announced plans for a national march against guns next month, heavy duty philanthropists—such as George and Amal Clooney, Oprah, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg—have come forward, each pledging $500,000 to support their cause.
Some of these students have been practicing, learning their talking points and reading from written or memorized notes. Sometimes it takes them a bit of time to get their thoughts straight, or to figure out how to respond to a particular question. But when they find their real voices, their presentations are amazing.
Emma Gonzales was among the first to move us, days after she and her classmates survived that chaotic, unworldly experience during which 17 of their fellow students—and teachers—were murdered during what should have been a regular school day. Though she was a relative newbie to the world of speaking in public, Gonzales energized her audience: “They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS! That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS!” And as she continued, the crowd was with her, joining in by shouting her repeated phrase, “We call BS!”
People who write, deliver and interpret the news are similarly caught up in their fervor. Matthew Krumholtz, of Huffington Post, wrote: “The Parkland students speak with an authority beyond their years. Through their powerful public speeches, they have put into stark relief how much we need straight talk and resolute action instead of mere “thoughts and prayers.”
The students from Parkland are being clear: they expect us to listen to them. They expect our politicians to wrestle with the issue of gun reform. We get the impression that they’ll be speaking out for quite a while, and we expect that they’ll become even more concise, more effective, and more demonstrative as they continue to refine their messages and find their powerful voices.
And we’ll continue to listen to them.