I did not want to be in Library West at 1:30 a.m.
As I pushed past the revolving door into the sad building, I thought about going back home to sleep. But my film studies homework was to watch a movie only available in the library reserves, and class was the next day.
The film was checked out by someone else in my class but was due back in an hour, so I resigned myself to a seat near the front counter. I opened my laptop but faced the common complication of trying to study in the library: I began people watching. I noticed a posse of people dressed for Midtown come up the escalator and shuffle to the bathroom.
I watched people studying around me, their tired faces buried in their screens. No one was paying attention to who was coming up the escalator — Midtown crowd or otherwise. I thought of who could be next to appear at the top, and my mind went to a dark place. A place all our minds have wandered to before.
What if there was a school shooter?
Although I had thought about it before, this time I tried pushing the mental image away, because 1:30 a.m. is not the time to think about that. I tried looking back at the assignment at my screen, but it was too late. My eyes darted around for an exit sign. I thought about what I would do. I’ve played this game before: I was working in a newsroom when the Capital Gazette shooting happened.
From my self-appointed seat in Library West, there was no place to run or hide. I was smack-dab in the vantage point of anyone entering the library. I stuffed my laptop into my backpack and got up to move.
While I may be receiving a bachelor’s degree in journalism come Spring, my UF education has prepared me for fantasizing about how to escape an active shooter, wondering how to keep myself safe and mourning the people who die from gun violence. But it wasn’t a total loss. I also learned hope.
One of my assignments at The Alligator was to embed myself on a bus trip to Washington, D.C. for March For Our Lives. The group of UF students, who were mostly from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and neighboring schools, drove 13 hours there and back with catchy signs and determination. They were resolute as they stood among thousands on Pennsylvania Avenue, cheering the young leaders of the #NeverAgain movement. I listened to Emma González tell the masses that they would be tasked with holding their elected officials accountable, and the marchers roared.
Passionate and conscientious, the next graduates of UF and other universities will lead. From my classmates to my coworkers and friends, the people I get to meet are ambitious and want better. For all the articles claiming this generation is lazy and riddled with psychological problems, I have never felt more confident that I know someone who will someday cure a disease or help broker peace.
Students don’t want to think about a shooting in their study spaces. Young professionals want to start a job without mandatory active shooter training. We’ve come to a point when this issue will get young people to vote.
Gun reform may be one of the foremost issues this generation is vocal about, but there will be others. While today’s problems seem insurmountable, those that are graduating will make positive change. Mark my words: They will better their respective fields and the world. Class of 2019, I am honored to throw my cap with you.
Meryl Kornfield was a UF journalism senior and The Alligator’s Editor-in-Chief.