Liam Patterson, right, links arms with fellow students
Liam Patterson, right, links arms with fellow students Kelly Kenoyer

The majority of Benson Polytechnic High School students walked out of class today to remember the victims of Parkland, Florida's mass shooting one month ago. Hundreds of students filled the concrete steps in the school's courtyard, linking arms and falling silent during the 17 minutes of silence to honor the 17 Parkland victims. The protest was matched by at least 71 other school walkouts across Portland public schools, according to a district official.

Liam Patterson, a junior at Benson, gave the Parkland student survivors credit for organizing the nationwide protest. The 17-year-old said, “Finally being able to take a stand and have our voices heard is really important.” Patterson is advocating for better gun control legislation as well as mental health care, and adds he's looking forward to voting once he turns 18.

Benson's principal, Curtis Wilson, directed students to gather in the courtyard with a megaphone.

“To me it’s just having a voice," he told the Mercury. "Our students wanted to have a voice, and be heard," he said. "They wanted to show support for the victims and families of Parkland, Florida. So this is our way.”

Principal Curtis Wilson organizes the students
Principal Curtis Wilson organizes the students Kelly Kenoyer

Wilson invited Student Body President Enrique Tellez to address his classmates.

"First off, I'd like to say I'm extremely proud of everyone who's out here today," Tellez, 18, said. "It's something really tragic that could happen to any one of us. We want to stand up for change, which is why we should all stand together in solidarity."

Student body president Enrique Tellez addresses his classmates
Student body president Enrique Tellez addresses his classmates Kelly Kenoyer

"I get really emotional because it could happen to any one of us," Tellez said. "This is the reality we have to face, and all we can do is fight for change." Tellez added he's glad he's old enough to vote, but he doesn't have much faith that politicians will advocate for him or gun control.

Principal Wilson continued addressing the crowd after Tellez's speech.

“I’m just like everybody else," he said. "I think about this every day when I walk into this building. I’m just as concerned as everybody else. How do we keep our students safe?"

The Benson students were later joined by several much younger students—some barely older than toddlers—from the Village Free School, who marched chanting "gun control now" until they joined the moment of silence on the lawn.

Students from Village Free School join the moment of silence
Students from Village Free School join the moment of silence Kelly Kenoyer

Amber Shoebridge, Media Relations Manager for Portland Public Schools, told the Mercury each school individually decided how to handle the walkout, adding that 72 out of the 80 schools held official protests. "We saw a lot of creative ideas from all of our schools," she said. "They have to be a part of the conversation."

Shoebridge says schools practice lockdown drills twice a year—the type of drill used in active shooter scenarios.

"You always hope that it will never happen, but you can't live by that," she said. "You have to live with the potential and make sure your people are as prepared as possible."