A week ago, while the world was hearing about a school massacre in Parkland, University of Miami sophomore Ally Rosenberg learned her cousin, Alex Schachter, had been killed. She held back tears as she spoke to the hundreds gathered at the Rock Plaza on Feb. 20 for a vigil.
“Alex should have gotten his driver’s permit this year, taken the SAT his junior year, gotten into his dream school his senior year, found a job, gotten married, had children and so many other milestones in one’s life,” she said. “Instead, he went to school just like any other day and did not make it home.”
Schachter, 14, was killed in the school massacre on Feb. 14. Another victim was Meadow Pollack, 18, the cousin of UM senior and exercise physiology major Matthew Labkovski. As the names of the 17 people killed surfaced in the days following the shooting, what emerged was a network of loved ones, friends and acquaintances grieving together across South Florida and across the country.
Parkland, a Florida town that many residents said was practically unknown before last week, became the center of worldwide attention after 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire around 2:20 p.m. inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.
Cruz, a former MSD student who had been expelled, showed up to campus in an old uniform shirt, with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. The shooting became the deadliest school shooting in Florida history and the deadliest in the nation since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.
Rosenberg said the pain her family has endured throughout the past week is one no one should ever face.
“It is hard to form words for this situation but I can tell you with certainty that your life should not end from an assault rifle in a place that is supposed to be safe,” she said to the crowd.
Much like the student survivors at MSD, who have created a campaign to end gun violence and demand lawmakers’ attention, Rosenberg called for her generation “to take action.”
“Please let your voice be heard. Write a letter. Join a protest. Share your thoughts on social media,” she said. “Alex Schachter might not be with us here today but, boy, is he going to make a difference in this world.”
Rosenberg, a student in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, said she overcame her “major fear of public speaking” to stand on the Rock Plaza and honor the memories of Schachter and of her family friend, 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg.
UM alumnus Scott Beigel, a 35-year-old geography teacher at MSD, also died in the shooting. Beigel studied education while at UM. He was gunned down while trying to usher students into a classroom for safety.
Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely called him “a hero” at the vigil.
“He is the embodiment of our ‘Canes care for ‘Canes’ motto,” she said, “Someone who cared for those around him.”
Since 2006, 128 MSD alumni have attended the university, Whitely said. There are 27 MSD alumni at the university this semester alone. The high school was known for its rigorous curriculum and high-achieving students.
One of those MSD grads, senior Maya Lubarsky, reached out to UM President Julio Frenk via email less than a day after the shooting and asked to plan a vigil. Almost immediately, Ombudsperson Jennifer Rau got back to her.
Lubarsky, a 2014 MSD alumna, made a group on Facebook and connected every MSD alumni she knew at UM to help plan the ceremony.
Within a couple of days, they were hashing out the details for the event. The Rock Plaza was adorned with a flower arrangement and 17 white candles for each of the victims. Along the sides of the courtyard were tables for attendees to write cards to the school, and the victims’ families and friends. There was also a banner that will be sent to MSD.
Lubarsky said she and other MSD alumni are working to secure a date for a campus-wide gun awareness/action and mental health day.
“It’s OK to make to stand up and make a change … And take action and fight for what you believe in, because if you don’t, nothing is going to happen,” Lubarsky said.
There will be another event, called the Canes Care For Eagles March, at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28 starting at the Rock Plaza. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.