Graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School show support at UMass

Two UMass seniors were members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ class of 2014


(Hayley Johnson/Daily Collegian)

By Hayley Johnson, Managing Editor

Just through the large red gates at the front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” in large black letters. Current students and graduates of the Parkland, Florida school really take that message to heart.

On Feb. 14, 17 students and teachers died as the result of a shooting at the school. Since then, students have been advocating for stricter gun laws.

University of Massachusetts seniors Danielle Pacillo and Jordan Vetstein are proud members of the Parkland high school’s graduating class of 2014.

“There was no other high school I would have rather gone to,” Pacillo said. “The teachers were amazing, they supported me. They supported not only my education, but they supported me emotionally and they genuinely cared about their students. So, when I heard that these teachers were risking their lives for their students, there was no doubt in my mind that that came from my high school. I was like ‘no, that’s not surprising to me.’”

“It is an amazing school, I never felt unsafe at any point in time,” Vetstein said, who is originally from Massachusetts, but moved to Parkland in fifth grade.

Pacillo and Vetstein are both fundraising for their high school with their sorority Sigma Delta Tau. The sorority tabled in the Campus Center Thursday and Friday, raising money and spreading awareness of the tragedy. Displayed across their table was a poster for UMass students to write messages to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas that Pacillo will be bringing back to her high school over spring break.

Pacillo isn’t surprised by the national impact some of the high school students have had in advocating for an increase in gun restrictions.

“People were asking me, ‘Is what’s going on—the reaction from the students, is that surprising to you?’ And you know what, no, I would expect this out of them. That’s what these teachers educated them to do, is to make their voice heard and to not stop until there is change in whatever it is that they’re working toward,” she said.

The tragedy hits very close to home for Pacillo and Vetstein.

“Room 1234, that’s the number they just kept saying on the news, and that was where I had my first high school class ever,” Pacillo said. “Freshman year, first period, that’s where I went. It’s just so surreal to think that image that I have of Douglas, it seems so foreign to me now.”

Both Pacillo and Vetstein flew home following the horrific event to spend time with their community.

Pacillo said one of the victims, Meadow Pollack, was a very close friend of hers and she considers the Pollack family to be her second family.

“I spent the whole week with them, I flew home, I sat Shiva with them, I didn’t leave their side,” Pacillo said. “Whether we are crying or laughing, or we were mad, whatever is was, we were all together and that’s what really mattered to them. I kind of got my inspiration from them…Andy, Meadow’s dad, I’ve seen him grieve but he’s more focused on making sure this never happens to another kid, and this never happens to another family.”

Vetstein said flying home on the morning of Feb. 17 was very hard.

“Me and my best friend from home walked to the school and it’s just a completely different feeling. Everything kind of looks like I left it when I graduated, but it was just silent. There was just a weird feeling in the air, it was just completely silent and everyone seemed broken,” she said.

“[Chris] Hixon and [Aaron] Feis, I saw all the time in school, so it’s horrible,” she said.

Both women were proud of UMass Admissions for releasing the statement on their Facebook page: “Students: If you participate in peaceful protests against gun violence and receive school discipline for walking out, staging your protest, etc., please rest assured that you can report it to UMass Amherst, and it will not affect your admission decision.”

“I think it’s absolutely amazing. When I saw UMass post on Facebook that it wouldn’t affect admission decisions if [students] participated in these peaceful protests, that was the first time I saw UMass reach out in this whole thing. And that really touched me, UMass did recognize it and they do know what’s going on,” Pacillo said.

As of Friday afternoon, Sigma Delta Tau has raised $1,421 for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, though the efforts are ongoing.

“Dani came to us as an e-board and asked if there was anything we could do to get involved with this at all, mostly because she’s so passionate about it, and it has really affected her and another sister in our sorority as well, as they’re from this community,” Sigma Delta Tau President Stephanie Margolis said. “We were totally on board and we wanted to support her 100 percent. She’s really spearheaded the whole thing which has been awesome and we’ve been tagging along, helping out wherever we can.”

The sorority does not have a specific fundraising goal that they are trying to meet.

“Most people come up to the table asking what they should donate and it’s really donate what you can, anything helps,” Margolis said.

Donations can be made through Venmo, to the handle SDTforMSD. “Anything helps, it all goes back to the school,” she said.

When Pacillo flies home to Parkland for spring break, she will be bringing the money raised with her.

Half the funds raised in the tabling will be brought directly to the principal of Stoneman Douglas by Pacillo and “the faculty themselves can decide how they want to spend that money, and it’s not up to the school board,” Pacillo said. The other half of the funds will be given to Pollack’s family, as a donation to Meadow’s Movement, “which is advocating for school safety and they’re building a playground—it’s a safe place for students to go.”

“I used to say ‘Yeah, I’m from Parkland’ and it was never something that I was proud of because no one ever knew where it was, but to now say that I’m from Parkland and that I graduated from Stoneman Douglas and that I got the same education as these kids who are more powerful than half of the politicians we have, and to see that they’re doing this, it’s so honorable and it makes me so proud,” Pacillo said. “Emma González and David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, those kids, I’m almost intimidated by them, because they’re so powerful and so well-spoken.”

“Everything I do will be for [Meadow], everything I do will be for that school and I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for Douglas,” she said.

Hayley Johnson can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @hayleyk_johnson.