Approximately 50 students, parents and faculty gathered at Calabasas High Thursday afternoon for an emotional vigil honoring the 27 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It was really nice that people came to support Newtown. I think it’s really brought the nation together … it’s made people think,” said Hallie Rosenberg, a 15-year-old sophomore who attended the vigil.
Nearly a dozen students performed, many of whom composed their own songs and poems. One student played a rendition of the classic Imagine by John Lennon on piano, and another ended the vigil with Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan.
Organized by Emily Simon, 17, a senior and vice president of the student government, the event also included an arts and crafts table where students could craft snowflakes and write letters to the Newtown community. Simon collected about 25 letters and mailed them the next day.
“It just kind of hit me hard,” Simon said of the tragedy. “I wanted to do something so they know the nation is mourning with them … and that they’re loved.”
A self-described “safe haven” for fellow classmates, Simon said that some freshman and sophomores came to her with concerns and were “a little more shooken up” than their older classmates.
While many of the juniors and seniors expressed sympathy, "it affected the underclass very much,” she said. “Their initial reaction was fear, but now it’s turning into strength.”
“Everyone’s thinking of safety more now,” said sophomore Lily Lester, 15.
Simon and other students credit the school administration for easing student anxiety that arose in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.
“[School officials] have been practicing lock-down drills and trying to make the school setting a safer place. I really don’t know what more could be done,” said Siena Goldman, 16. “I’m really lucky to attend Calabasas High, it’s a very safe area but so was Newtown, so I hope it stays that way.”
The school administration in turn is lauding Simon and the other students for participating in the vigil that Assistant Principal Todd Schroeder called “indescribable,” one that left parents and faculty particularly impacted, with many holding back tears.
“I think the students in general at Calabasas High have an incredible amount of compassion and are very aware of things outside of their community,” Schroeder said.
“It was so beautiful and moving,” added Principal C.J. Foss. “I’m so proud of these kids addressing the issue in a really positive way that brought everyone together.”
A hurricane candle now sits in the main office, with three wicks burning in memoriam of lives tragically cut short in a town that, although lying almost 3,000 miles away from Calabasas, is a mirror image of small communities all over America.
Called the Candle of New Hope, its flames will burn from now throughout January, said Principal Foss.
Simon has just received news that she was accepted to the University of San Francisco, where she is planning on majoring in Communication Studies.
Active throughout her time at Calabasas High in groups such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and the Tree Huggers, Simon said she plans on continuing her activism.
“It was just really nice to see students all come together,” she said.
Those who performed at the vigil were Jenna Snyder, Adam and Julia Feldman, Mack Keane, Danny Cagan, Sadie Buchenau, Carmel Gutherz, Phil Kanarsh, Jillian Hecht, Ben Lewis and graduate of 2012, Michael Lewis.