By Christian Smith
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's newest graduates carry with them a tragic burden, but the memory of the deadly mass shooting should not hold them back, said Darren Levine, an English teacher at the school.
"We are not moving on really," Levine said Monday in an interview with Cheddar. "We're moving forward. Our backpacks are a lot heavier, but we're continuing on."
The school's senior class graduated on Sunday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., without four of their classmates. They were among the 14 students and three faculty members killed when a gunman went on a shooting rampage at the school in February.
This year's graduation ceremony was understandably heavier than past celebrations, said Levine, who graduated from Douglas himself in 2002. "It was more of a calm, solemn type of feel," he said.
Jimmy Fallon, the host of "The Tonight Show," surprised the graduating class with a hopeful speech that included a dose of humor to lighten the mood.
"Today you're graduating from high school," Fallon said. "You should feel incredibly proud of yourselves. That doesn't mean you should rest on your laurels ー or your yannys."
Fallon said that the silly debate over what sound different people hear will dissipate by the end of the summer, but the deeper bonds forged by the Douglas graduates' shared experience will last long after graduation, when they're "adults who Facebook search each other at two in the morning for the next 10 years."
When that shared burden gets difficult, Fallon said the graduates should "remember that it gets better."
"Choose to move forward," he said. "Don't let anything stop you."
Marjory Stoneman Douglas students have been unbowed since the shooting on February 14. They have lobbied Congress to change the country's gun laws, rallied communities to confront gun violence by organizing the March for Our Lives in Washington, and called on people who care about the issue to register to vote ahead of November's midterm elections.
Levine has led some of the students' trips to Washington to meet with lawmakers, and he said he was optimistic about the prospects for new gun control measures, though change will not happen quickly, he said.
"I understand this might not happen in my lifetime, unfortunately, but that doesn't mean it can't happen one day," Levine said.
For the full interview, click here.