Suzanna Barna was just shutting down her computer in journalism class, thinking about her too-long story on her high school’s internet filtering policy.
The school newspaper story was 1,600 words, and her workaround was to chop it into two 800-word segments.
A few desks over, Lewis Mizen had finished a draft of his op-ed on DACA and President Trump, and Kevin Trejos, behind the other two on his assignment, had just gone into the hall to refill his water bottle.
Then the alarm went off at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Barna, Mizen and Trejos haven’t touched those stories since.
Of course, after that moment on Feb. 14, they ripped up the layout for the paper after the mass shooting at their high school in Parkland, Florida. Barna, Trejos and Mizen became active in what would become the #NeverAgain effort to end school shootings. The three were part of the movement’s first foray abroad over the weekend. They spoke at a global education conference in Dubai.
And next weekend, they go to Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives event, one of 700-some marches nationwide for safe schools.
Those uncompleted school journalism assignments? That didn’t hurt them from picking up another reporting job next weekend, for The Guardian. Barna and Mizen, in particular, spoke of how journalism has inspired them. Mizen says the shooting came a day before they faced a test on the role of special interests, and they applied their research, as he put it, “by going toe to toe with the NRA.”
The shooting “gave our lives a new mission and set us on a new course,” says Mizen. On Saturday, he told thousands of teachers and education-policymakers that they were confident of victory over dithering politicians because “we would live longer.”
In Dubai, accompanied by Trejos’ mother, Claudia, the three high school seniors were greeted warmly by thousands of teachers and education policymakers. Before an interview late Saturday, the three fielded a welcome from a teacher and her husband from South Africa, who told them to keep fighting. “We’re looking at what you do,” she said. “We’ve had a major gun problem in South Africa, too.”
In one hour on Sunday, the three got advice from former Vice President Al Gore, ex-British leader Tony Blair and London Evening Standard editor George Osborne.
“The truth is a source of power,” Gore, who sought them out, told them. When asked for advice on maintaining the #NeverAgain momentum, Gore said: “You guys have been doing it better than anyone else. I would go with your instincts.”
On Saturday, they were praised by Charlize Theron, historian Simon Schama and “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra.
After hearing Trejos, Barna and Mizen on Saturday, Schama, a Financial Times columnist, tweeted: “Anyone pessimistic about the world should have heard 3 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School … eloquent, impassioned — already true citizens — steeled by tragedy.”
Their gratitude to the support showed up in Twitter cards, such as this below.
(Illustration by Srushti Hebbar, Photo by Andrew Lih. Used with permission)
The three also mentioned they’ve seen another side to journalism as they’ve been questioned. For example, on Saturday, they were brought before scores of foreign journalists, some of whom were disbelieving that America would consider arming teachers in classrooms or wondering why it has taken so long to rally against violence in schools.
They’re doing it while still feeling pain. Barna said it has been hard to look at the two empty desks in her class — one occupied by a slain classmate; another by a student recovering from gunshot wounds.
The three students also have gotten a lesson on the ugly part of the internet, seeing trolls telling them they aren’t real students or are part of some conspiracy. “We just lost our friends. There should be a level of respect,” Mizen said in a session late Sunday on school violence and mental health. “We’re not going to change their minds. So the best thing to do is ignore them.”
With their poise, it’s easy to forget they are still teenagers. Their civics teacher recommended them for the conference because they were all outward looking. Barna was born in China, Trejos visits relatives in Colombia and Mizen is a British citizen who has spent much of his life in South Florida.
Answering a question from Mizen in a session, Blair, the former British leader, told the three that he remembered much of his late teen years, including pursuits that were much more enjoyable than politics. He also advised them to resist the siren call of incendiary comments before the microphones.
Here’s the rest of Blair’s advice, portrayed by the New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly:
But first, they have to make it to graduation on June 3.
Barna and Trejos are a couple, and both have been accepted to University of California at San Diego, but haven’t made final decisions yet. Mizen is going to Florida State.
They’re trying to train the underclassmen to take over the school newspaper and also train the next batch of #NeverAgain leaders at the high school (though they’ll be continuing efforts of some kind after graduation).
And some assignments, unlike those shelved high school news stories, cannot be delayed. Barna says she and Trejos have six Advanced Placement tests to get through; Mizen, laughing, says he only has four.
If you want to hear more from the three students, here is an Facebook Live video interview Sree Sreenivasan and I conducted with them on Saturday evening: