WATERVILLE — Tamara Ranger was sitting on a panel with teachers and principals Feb. 14 at Thomas College, talking to future educators about the teaching profession. The hour passed quickly as Ranger, Maine’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, and the other educators told stories about working with children, why they love education and how every decision they make is always in the best interest of their students. She left the building feeling energized.

She got into her car at 4 p.m. to head home and immediately heard reports of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“I don’t remember driving. I don’t remember navigating traffic. But what I do recall is that I felt as though I had been sucker-punched. I held my breath as though if I could refrain from breathing I could stop this from happening and make it go away,” Ranger told the crowd that turned out Saturday evening for the March for our Lives vigil at Castonguay Square in downtown Waterville. “When I got home and heard the later news reports coming in, like all of you, I was devastated. I was heartbroken. And I was angry about the senseless violence that had taken and killed 17 more innocent lives of students and teachers.”

She talked about the fear that swept through Skowhegan Area Middle School, where she teaches, 14 days later when threats of violence closed down the district. She said that they were relieved and heartbroken when the suspect was taken in to custody.

“Recently, I had the privilege of hearing author Jason Reynolds speak, and he was asked about his life and his work. You know what he said? He said, ‘All I know is to give all I have to everything that I love.’ And teachers, we’re heartbroken, we’re angry, we’re upset because it’s all we know. Every day we do this because we love our students, and all we know is to give everything we have to them,” Ranger said, adding that she and her colleagues give their students a love of learning, compassion when students are hurting and delight when students solve a complex problem. But now, she said, Congress needs to give students something too.

“So now it’s time for our policymakers who say that they love our kids to give all they have to keep them safe,” she said.

That was a common sentiment voiced by the seven speakers who told their stories and called for reform at the Waterville event, which was just one of the thousands of marches calling for legislation to end gun violence going on across the country and the world in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

Stryker Adams and Marcus Mitchell, a 15-year-old transgender activist from Edward Little High School in Auburn, started organizing a full-fledged march in Augusta but couldn’t secure a permit in time, so they decided to hold a smaller-scale event in Waterville.

Adams said he wanted to get involved more in politics and activism after the 2016 presidential election and decided that he would focus on gun reform in 2018, especially after the shooting in Parkland.

Marcus, who was one of the two student speakers at the event, said he is tired of feeling unsafe at school and going through lockdown and wants to get the attention of Maine’s congressional delegation so legislation can make change.

As part of the vigil, Marcus and Adams set up a table where people could register to vote and sign a poster board that will be sent to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin.

Students ranging in age from elementary school to college were in attendance, as well as parents, educators and other advocates for gun reform. The crowd held signs demanding an end to gun sale loopholes and for schools to be made safer. They called out “Enough is enough” over the course of the two-hour event.

Kortney Peak, 26, Amber Munson, 25, and Cecilia Natale, 25, all came from Farmington to attend the event. The three friends said hopefully legislators would notice the activism and start listening to what constituents want.

Peak, a Navy veteran, said she started thinking seriously about school shootings when 20 children and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

At the time, Peak was in the Navy and was the person who put her base’s flag at half staff that day to mark the tragedy.

“I guess that was a big turning point in my life,” Peak said, wiping away tears as she recalled the memory.

Jennifer McGee, principal of Atwood School in Oakland and Maine’s 2017 Principal of the Year, mentioned the Sandy Hook shooting in her own speech. She said she was speaking Saturday for Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook, who was murdered while trying to protect her students.

“Today I am her voice,” she said.

She applauded the students who have been leading the movement since the Parkland shooting and called for the adults to start acting, saying, “Our fearless youth have done enough. They are begging our legislators to keep them safe. (Former President) Barack Obama tweeted to them, ‘We have been waiting for you.’ I echo that very sentiment to the leaders of this great nation. We have been waiting for you.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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