And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their world
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware what they’re going through.

— David Bowie – Changes

To the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,

You don’t necessarily need this post. I admit, I’m writing because I feel like I need to bear witness to what you are doing and try to help. And as an educator who has spent his professional life trying to build systems that help students to tap into their agency so that they know they can change the world, I am simply in awe of you. So I thought I’d put down a few thoughts you may find helpful. If any of it is useful, awesome. If not, simply know that there’s a principal up in Philadelphia who is – along with so many others – inspired by you.

Because what you are doing right now is nothing short of incredible. No one would blame you if your reaction to what you just experienced was to get under the covers and not come out for a month. Realistically, there’s a better than average chance that’s where I would be.

But throughout history, there have been those who have risen up in the face of tragedy and spoken out. I saw on your Twitter feed that one of the Sandy Hook moms came to meet with you today. You now stand in that proud and powerful tradition with people like Mamie Till, Sarah and Jim Brady, Gabby Gifford and many others.

So with that, some thoughts… and you’ve probably heard many of them already…

Take time to grieve. You just suffered incredible loss and trauma that no one should have to live through. And channelling that into your activism is amazing. But it is ok to let yourself feel and hurt and grieve. There’s no wrong way to do it. It may catch you at a quiet moment or not. And there will be more than one moment. And there will even be moments long after this is past where the grief hits you unexpectedly. That’s ok. That’s normal. And no one is allowed to tell you not to feel those moments.

This work is incredibly long. There will be big early wins and losses as world is watching you. And then, the long work begins. All of us who have been involved in the work of trying to change the world have gotten frustrated at times, cynical at times, tired at times. That’s part of it. Sustaining the passion for the work is really hard, and you’ll need trusted friends and allies who will listen to you vent and strategize with you and privately call you on your mistakes and tell you when you need to go get some sleep. You will need those people, and I am sure you will be those people for each other as well.

Celebrate every win, great or small. They are rarer than they should be, and it can be so easy to fall into the trap of failing to recognize the good win because you were focused on the great win. You all are already affecting change. You are being heard. You are spurring others to action. Make sure you take the time to appreciate that.

Know that it is ok to be hurt by those who are cruel or unthinking or disingenuous. I saw some of the really horrible things some people who would try to discredit you are saying. Bravery doesn’t mean those things don’t hurt. Don’t let those folks take away your humanity, because they will try.

And finally, I say this to our graduates every year, and given all that has happened this past week, it seems appropriate now as well.

As you know – as you have embraced – you do not have the luxury of hoping that other people will say what must be said, do what is needed, work to make the world a better place. That is not the world we have left you. You must be smarter than we have been, more compassionate than we have been able to be, and braver than we can imagine.

Listening to you… watching you… I have no doubt that you will be.

And one last thing…

Thank you.


Chris Lehmann
Founding Principal
Science Leadership Academy