On December 15, students gathered outside of Parrish to hold a vigil in the aftermath of Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The event, organized by Leonie Cohen ’16 and Michelle Johnson ’16, was intended to allow members of the Swarthmore community to reach out and support each other.
The vigil opened with a speech by Cohen and Johnson followed by two brief poems, read by Allison Hrabar ’16 and Maria Vieytez ’16. Then, attendees observed several minutes of silence. Candles were distributed and students, standing in a semicircle, gradually passed the flame around. Liz Braun, Dean of Students, gave a brief speech towards the end in which she thanked students for showing up in the wake of the tragedy.
“I was overwhelmed by how our community came together to support one another, to find support, to honor those who were affected,” said Cohen. “We wanted it to be something that each person could relate to in their own way,” she added.
Cohen said she originally thought about having a vigil while trying to deal with her own feelings. “I was on Facebook, and I saw all the statues, and the news, and I just got overwhelmed. I knew this was something I really wanted to be able to deal with,” she said. Cohen asked if anyone was planning a vigil, and soon found herself, with Johnson, organizing it.
“I personally wanted to do it just because I felt like I needed to do something for my friends back in Connecticut because I couldn’t be there with them,” said Johnson, who lives in Woodbridge, near Newtown. Johnson said that her connection to the community made the shooting even more poignant. “I kept remembering to how I kind of viewed other shootings, and this one just felt completely different. I don’t know quite how to describe it,” she said.
In addition to the candles held by students, twenty-eight candles were lit on a table that stood at the front of the semicircle. Twenty of those candles were smaller to acknowledge that the children killed died a great deal before their time. Seven represented the lives of the adults murdered, and one extra candle remained to represent whatever attendees wished.
Cohen expressed happiness at how the vigil turned out, and gratitude at those who came. “It was just really wonderful that we were so moved,” said Cohen. She added that the event helped her come to terms with her own emotions about the shooting. “It was really therapeutic for me. It wasn’t just sitting there trying to understand what happened.”
Photo courtesy of dosomething.org