More than 100 UCF students crammed into two charter buses Friday afternoon as they traveled 16 hours to Washington, D.C., to attend the March For Our Lives rally.
March For Our Lives is a demonstration held to honor those who died from gun violence and push for legislative gun reform. Marches were held in the United States and in cities around the world, including Paris, London and Orlando. The D.C. march attracted a crowd of 850,000, according to the official March For Our Lives Twitter.
Men, women, children and even pets flooded Pennsylvania Avenue and the surrounding streets hours before the march began. Children in strollers were adorned with pins that read “Am I next?” Teenagers with braces held signs stating “I miss my classmates more than you’ll miss your guns.”
Coralie Morin, a 22-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumna and UCF student, organized the UCF trip after being affected by two mass shootings. The first was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016 that killed 49 people and injured at least 53. The second was at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in her hometown of Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 that killed 17 people.
“It felt very surreal, like everyone is saying, ‘You never think it’s going to happen to your hometown,’ ” Morin said.
Survivors have called for stricter gun laws since the shooting. Advocates at the rally supported raising the age limit to purchase firearms and bans on assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 rifle used in the Parkland shooting. They also called for universal background checks and closing loopholes that allow easier access to guns.
Though Morin didn’t personally know anyone who died in the Parkland shooting, she said she knew cousins and family members of those who died. She said they grew up together.
“I feel terrible I never did anything about [shootings] before because it actually did happen in my other [town] — here in Orlando, at Pulse,” Morin said. ” … I feel bad I never actually did anything until it directly affected my home. So I felt like I needed to do something, to have my voice heard.”
Students attended an informational meeting for the trip on Tuesday night, which was held in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus. They were given T-shirts bearing both UCF and Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ logos and text that read “UCF STANDS WITH MSD.”
Morin said she originally planned for a small group of 20 to go on the trip, prioritizing Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni. However, her Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority sister Rachel Cohen said more should be able to go due to the amount of students and Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni at UCF.
The two decided to open registration for two buses, which allowed more than 100 students to go. When it became apparent that the trip needed a leader, Morrin stepped up.
Buses full of UCF students left at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and arrived in Washington, D.C., early Saturday morning. Students layered their new T-shirts over jackets and sweaters and toted signs that read “Loving Arms, Not Firearms” and “Hunting Season is Over.”
Josh Boloña, the newly elected UCF SGA student body president and Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumnus, attended the march. He unearthed an old school shirt from his time in SGA in high school and said he was marching to support his peers back home.
“This is the least I could do to give back,” Boloña said. “Not only for the school, but for the rest of the nation.”
The rally began at noon, featuring speakers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as well as children affected by gun violence from Chicago, south Los Angeles and Baltimore. Performers such as Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Lin Manuel Miranda sang and gave messages of support to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students and march attendees.
A sea of painted signs featured protesters chanting “Never again” and “Vote them out,” which targeted politicians who accept money from the National Rifle Association and don’t support stricter gun legislation.
In a surprise appearance, Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., spoke at the event. On the 50th anniversary of her grandfather’s death, she proclaimed to the crowd that she, too, has a dream.
“I have a dream that enough is enough,” she said. “That this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
King was met with cheers and shouts of “Vote her in! Vote her in!”
Stephanie Fado, a 21-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumna and UCF junior, said her close friends had younger siblings who were directly affected by the Parkland shooting. She marched to support them.
“It breaks my heart,” Fado said. “And I want to do something about it.”
Fado also co-hosted a candlelight vigil at UCF’s Memory Mall on Feb. 15, a day after the shooting.
She said she hopes the march will inspire gun legislation and change people’s perception of gun violence.
After the two-hour rally, protesters began to disperse. Some left, but others carrying posters and flashing peace signs marched toward the White House.
The UCF buses left D.C. at midnight and arrived back at the university shortly after 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Joshua Levine, a 20-year-old UCF student, said the march was “enlightening.”
“To see how many people are super passionate about it, affected by it overall, you know … is awesome,” Levine said. “The fact that they’re able to take whatever pain they had, and like, mold it into … an ability to just get active afterwards.”