Thoughts and Prayers
By Allie Neugebauer
WRI 111: Writing Seminar
To read Student Editor Yushuo Wang’s comments on the writing moves found in this essay, click on or hover over the footnotes within the text.
December 14, 2012
I skipped out of the school’s front doors holding my mom’s hand that day. It was a Friday morning, and after a quick lockdown, the school had just announced that we would be released early — a fourth grader’s paradise. Last time we had a lockdown like this, they kept us inside because there was a fox on the school grounds, and they didn’t want us to get hurt. I assumed this was the case again, so as we walked to the car, I pictured a big brown bear or mountain lion climbing up the ladder on the playground. I tried to keep my daydreams to myself, though, because the tense look on all the adults’ faces told me that something more serious was going on. I knew there was emotion behind the long, protective hug that my mom greeted me with when she picked me up — I just didn’t really understand what that emotion was. 1 From a child’s perspective, Allie played out her inner thoughts and emotions.
Police cars littered the small elementary school parking lot, and officers lined the sidewalks to make sure each child was safely escorted by their parents. When I asked my mom why they were there, she gave me a simple response that something had gone wrong in Newtown, a few minutes away. I accepted the uncomplicated explanation and went home to play with my older brothers, daydreaming about the peanut butter and Nutella sandwich that awaited me on the kitchen counter. 2 While being cute, peaceful, and relatable to the audience’s childhood, this scene creates the feeling of isolation from the rest of the turmoil and builds contrast.
I never really had someone sit me down and tell me what happened that day. I gathered my knowledge of the story from clips I saw on the news before my parents changed the channel, or from the lips of fellow nine-year-olds whose friends relayed the cruel details. So, while I didn’t know what an AR-15 was and I’d never heard of someone named Adam Lanza, it didn’t take too long to learn what really happened. A mere 20 minutes away, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 26 people were killed in the face of a semiautomatic rifle in the wrong hands. Included in those victims was an entire class of first graders.
First graders. 3 Italics and a line break here are cleverly used, augmenting the level of urgency and significance.
Jessica Rekos, a six-year-old, had just told her mom that morning how excited she was to sell Girl Scout cookies in January, and waved at her through the bus window as she drove away. Jesse Lewis, another classmate, had plans to make gingerbread houses with his family after school. Emilie Parker had just started teaching her little sister how to read that week. Charlotte Bacon adored the color pink (Kranz and Harrington). 4 The anecdotes of the four children, written in a paralleled form, appeal to the gripping emotion of readers.
None of them made it out alive.
Our community was never the same again. There was a collective mourning around the county for the children who had fallen victim to such a horrific crime. Our schools implemented strict new security policies, and parents joined forces to support the families of the victims. My closest family friends, who lived in Newtown, were friends with many of the victims and their loved ones. They moved to Tennessee shortly after the attack and haven’t returned since. The Sandy Hook Elementary School building was torn down and rebuilt due to the traumatic memories ingrained within its walls. Thinking back, it’s difficult for me to even remember what our community was like before the attack. We adjusted, we adapted, and we swore that nothing like this would ever happen again. 5 This serves as a good transition to the following section: something did happen again.
October 23, 2015
Twenty-eight of our seventh-grade bodies were squeezed into the back area of the classroom with the lights off, and the only sound we could hear was each other’s breathing. My knees ached from keeping my legs curled up to my chest for so long, but I knew this wasn’t the time or place to complain. Our science teacher sat atop a desk in front of us, face buried in her phone screen as she tried to gather any information she could about our current situation. Her furrowed brow communicated more than her words, though, for every time a confused classmate whispered, “Mrs. Brown, what’s happening?” she would only glance up and snap, “I don’t know what’s happening, okay? I don’t know.” There were no words of comfort or gentle offerings of information. I didn’t understand Mrs. Brown’s uncertainty. She was a teacher — she was supposed to know everything. Of course, we weren’t naive children anymore. We knew what a lockdown like this meant.
I wondered if maybe I would die like this. I thought of a bullet penetrating my new Brandy Melville shirt that I wore specifically to impress my crush that day. What a shame, I thought, that I would have to pass away next to Anna Walker and Mia Johnson. They were always so mean to me. Then I thought of my parents and felt bad that they were probably worried about me. I wished I had hugged them this morning before I left for school. Did I even say “I love you” when I walked out the door? The thought haunted me, and I promised God that I had just decided to believe that I would give Mom and Dad a big hug if I made it home alive today. 6 Allie lets us into her mind, as quick and frightening thoughts move through.
After seven hours of silence and uncertainty, the beep that signals the start of an announcement sounded over the loudspeaker, followed by our headmaster’s strong and stable voice declaring that we would be free to leave within the hour. After several moments of silence as to what the next steps would be, the class began buzzing with conversation. Chatter about the day rippled throughout the student body like a wildfire to a dry forest, with words like “pipe bombs,” “special police force,” and “active shooter” dominating the conversations. Students gathered in the bathroom to describe how their teacher had brought out a baseball bat or their door had been pounded on. The local news clarified the real story behind our experiences — our middle school had gotten a phone call from an untraceable number threatening to shoot up the school, forcing us into a high-level lockdown like the ones we had drills for every month. Special police forces were dispatched during the lockdown to thoroughly inspect the building and further investigate. While there was never any tangible harm done in accordance with the threat, the very idea that we were completely susceptible to such a danger was enough to rattle the community.
When my bus dropped us off at the end of our street that afternoon, I asked my friend, who lives two doors down, to walk me home because I was scared the shooter had followed us back. We talked about our day as we walked, both rolling our eyes at how seriously the school took the threat — it was probably just some bored teenager trying to liven up our uneventful town. But after he said goodbye to me at my front door, I caught him running to his house through the backyard on the path that was hidden from view of the street. I locked the door immediately after I shut it.
It was as if a sledgehammer had been taken to the walls of innocence that protected my youthful naiveté from the terrors of the real world. After all, those seemingly indestructible barriers had already been penetrated during Sandy Hook. Today was the final nudge that made them collapse completely. I no longer saw the world through the wide eyes of who I was yesterday. 7 “Sledgehammer” is such an eloquent metaphor used here that cracked open the formidable part of the world and a child’s previously innocent heart.
February 27, 2018
I woke up to over 200 texts on my phone.
“Is Will okay?”
“Did you see the messages?”
“Are you still going to school today?”
“Why aren’t you responding? Where are you?”
I groggily rubbed my eyes and checked the time. 6:45 a.m. What could have possibly happened within the past 8 hours I was sleeping?
Clicking through my messages, I soon figured out what everyone was talking about. Late last night, a 23-year-old man was texting a senior student at our high school and threatened to come into the building that day and shoot up the school. In the text, he mentioned a list of five targets for his attack. Included in that list was my brother’s name.
I hastened out of bed and ran downstairs to the kitchen, where my family was awake and making breakfast. My mom casually explained that the offender had been arrested and everything was fine. Apparently, Will’s name had only been mentioned because he and the intimidator were friends on Facebook. So, despite the fact that about half of my friends weren’t going to school out of fear, I would have to hurry up and get ready so I could make it to my first-period class on time.
I was dizzy with confusion. Is this what we had come to? Had this looming threat of violence become so common in our community that we were just supposed to act like it was normal? 8 Promoting the thoughts of the audience, this rhetorical question reflects the severity of violence, which has developed to be part of our everyday life. For all we knew, my brother’s life was at risk, and we were just treating it like a regular Tuesday. I couldn’t keep living like this, with the ever-impending possibility of danger on the horizon. We had gotten lucky so far that the past two major threats had been false. How much longer could we gamble with our own safety? 9 This section wraps up in a way that indicates Allie is going to take action.
My reckoning with the concept of safety and luck had already been tested. 10 This is a good lead-in sentence, connecting the previous paragraph with the next one. After all, just two weeks beforehand, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 17 innocent students and teachers were murdered in a brutal school shooting. It became overwhelmingly clear that I could not just sit back and let this happen anymore.
I decided to act on the fire that had been growing inside me since that December day in fourth grade, and I dove into educating myself about gun violence in America. To this day, I still can’t believe some of the data about this epidemic. Firearms are the second leading cause of death among U.S. children and adolescents, second only to car crashes. Since 1970, the U.S. has experienced 1,316 recorded school shootings — a statistic that would be unheard of for most other developed countries (Cunningham). In 2021 alone, there were at least 202 incidents of gun violence on school property (“The Long, Shameful List”). Furthermore, my experiences with this type of gun violence are not even fully representative of the problem as a whole — Black children and teens are over eight times more likely to die from firearm homicide than white adolescents of the same age (Cunningham). Thus, this is not just a national issue, but it is an intersectional dilemma as well. Ignoring these disproportionate effects of gun violence would be detrimental to the progress of the movement as a whole.
After years of experiencing these atrocities, Parkland was an urgent wake-up call — something had to change. Instead of hoping someone else would eventually make it better, I took to the streets at March For Our Lives, a historic youth-led protest that called for political action on gun control. So, on a chilly Saturday morning on March 24th, 2018, I boarded a train to New York City equipped with nothing but a homemade anti-gun-violence poster and a flame of passion. There, I joined the movement of over 1.2 million citizens around the country who were marching in support of the same cause. Protesting amongst that crowd of activists, educators, survivors, leaders, students, speakers, and advocates, I felt the energy of change course through my veins. It was time for us to stand up from our desks and fight. 11 Allie has her readers in mind; her choice of including how she experienced gun violence enhances readability and helps create resonance among readers.
Four years later 12 This section is crucial by relating to the current world and making us realize why we are reading this today.
Immediately after the Parkland shooting, local politicians worked to satisfy the media’s demands for stricter gun control. Just five months after Parkland, over 50 new gun laws were passed in states around the country, and activist organizations had already pioneered support groups and forums for survivors (Vasilogambros). However, in the four years following that remarkable March For Our Lives, momentum for the movement slowed. Partisan divides have led to a complete lack of action by Congress to pass important legislative bills on gun control, which leaves all the heavy lifting up to the states (Poliquin). Furthermore, policymakers tend to only react when there are catastrophic mass shootings, ignoring the staggering effects of homicides, suicides, and other violence that stems from loose gun laws. As a result, there continue to be hundreds of deaths from gun violence in the US every single week — actually, an average of over 106 gun-related deaths per day (“Gun Violence Statistics”).
To effectively reduce the dangers of gun culture in America, a number of legislative actions need to occur. This starts with closing loopholes. The Charleston loophole allows gun dealers to sell to anyone if the FBI doesn’t process their background check within three days, and the private sale loophole is an easy way for people with criminal histories to purchase firearms. To ensure that guns are getting into the hands of the right people, legislators must create laws that prevent such evasions of the rules. Furthermore, they must include domestic abusers in the list of those who are prohibited from purchasing firearms, because they are not already (Parsons, sec. “Legislative action”). This action would prevent the deaths of an average of 70 women every month who are shot and killed by intimate partners, and the thousands more who are shot and suffer severe injuries (Bancroft et al).
Federally, there is also a necessity to ban ghost guns. Currently, the law only necessitates that serial numbers are engraved in finished products of firearms. Thus, they can be distributed a few steps before reaching their final stage and be fully assembled at home. This means that these guns are untraceable after a crime, making them the primary “weapon of choice for many violent white supremacists and anti-government extremists” (Parsons, sec. “Executive action”)
Additionally, there must be more prioritization of gun research in federal budgets. In 2017, for example, gun violence received only “5.3% of the federal research funds allocated for motor-vehicle accidents, even though they kill similar numbers of Americans per year” (Gregory and Wilson). Ideally, gun violence would be treated with the same level of urgency as other areas of research. So in order to effectively take action, there must be proper funding for such efforts.
These aforementioned steps are only the first of many to properly address the crisis in America today. Investing in smart gun technology, ending legal immunity for gun manufacturers, and reversing the Trump administration’s shifts in oversight for firearm exports also must be prioritized. All of this and more still needs to be done, but there must be public support in order to make it happen. If we can shift the political momentum in the right direction and elect the correct leaders to make it happen, a lot of positive changes can be made. Our politicians must be wary of the NRA’s influence and stay steadfast in the fight against gun violence.
So that brings us to today. I talked to my parents and some childhood friends in the process of writing this paper to make sure my memory is accurate, and the conversations shattered my heart. Despite being so young, all my friends remember the day of Sandy Hook with picture-perfect clarity. One described watching her parents cry beside her in a church pew, and another recounted the conversation in which her fourth-grade teacher told the class that she would take the bullet for them if this ever happened again. My mom’s perspective touched me the most, though. “I just remember giving you the biggest hug,” she told me in a softhearted tone. “I was so relieved just to see you alive.” I would be lying if I claimed that I could imagine being in her or my dad’s shoes that day — let alone those of the parents who never got to see their children again. That’s a type of fear that’s impossible to recover from. 13 Referring to the opening of the passage, Allie created a closed loop that reminds us what happened and what we should never forget.
I have been fortunate to emerge physically unharmed from my brushes with gun violence and threats, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t changed as a person as a result. Despite my parents’ loving attempts to protect me from the realities of each incident, those situations forced me to mature far faster than a child ever should. I grieve for the way my community will never be the same, and I would never wish for future generations of fourth-graders — or seventh-graders, or ninth-graders — to ever have to feel that sense of insecurity when stepping into the building where they’re supposed to be learning. Even more, I want the very essence of mass shootings to no longer be so normalized that we are numb to the atrocities. For the victims of such violence, for the families of those victims, for the society that encompasses them, and just for the younger versions of me, I hope we can make a change.
If you want to get involved, here are a few ways you can help:
Petition for Senator Schumer to bring universal background checks to the Senate floor for a vote:
Sign up for the Everytown for Gun Safety mailing list to stay informed:
Volunteer for/join an organization near you:
- https://www.ncgv.org/ (North Carolinians against Gun Violence)
- https://www.bradyunited.org/join (Brady grassroots campaign – has chapters across the country)
Donate to a gun control nonprofit:
- https://secure.actblue.com/donate/giffords-website?refcode=site_top_nav (This is a PAC, so it will support certain lawmakers and is not necessarily a nonprofit)
Bancroft, Julie, et al. “Guns and Violence Against Women: America’s Uniquely Lethal Intimate Partner Violence Problem.” Everytown Research & Policy, https://everytownresearch.org/report/guns-and-violence-against-women-americas-uniquely-lethal-intimate-partner-violence-problem/. Accessed 18 July 2022.
Cunningham, Rebecca. “The Facts on the US Children and Teens Killed by Firearms.” University of Michigan, 6 Aug. 2019, https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/lab-report/facts-on-us-children-and-teens-killed-by-firearms.
Gregory, Sean, and Chris Wilson. “6 Real Ways We Can Reduce Gun Violence in America.” Time, 22 Mar. 2018, https://time.com/5209901/gun-violence-america-reduction/.
“Gun Violence Statistics.” Team ENOUGH, https://www.teamenough.org/gun-violence-statistics. Accessed 28 Apr. 2022.
Harrington, Michal Kranz, Rebecca. “It’s Been 6 Years since the Sandy Hook Shooting. Here Are the Names and Pictures of the 27 Victims, Including 20 Children, Who Were Murdered That Day.” Business Insider, 14 Dec. 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/who-were-the-victims-of-the-sandy-hook-shooting-2017-12.
Parsons, Chelsea. “Gun Violence Prevention Priorities for a New Congress and a New Administration.” Center for American Progress, 16 Jan. 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/gun-violence-prevention-priorities-new-congress-new-administration/.
Poliquin, Christopher. “Gun Control Fails Quickly in Congress after Each Mass Shooting, but States Often Act – Including to Loosen Gun Laws.” The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/gun-control-fails-quickly-in-congress-after-each-mass-shooting-but-states-often-act-including-to-loosen-gun-laws-157746. Accessed 28 Apr. 2022.
“The Long, Shameful List of Gunfire on School Grounds in America.” Everytown Research & Policy, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/gunfire-on-school-grounds/. Accessed 24 Apr. 2022.
Vasilogambros, Matt. After Parkland, States Pass 50 New Gun-Control Laws. 2 Aug. 2018, https://pew.org/2MaUDLp.
A Word from Allie
When Professor Whitehead introduced the prompt for this assignment — a narrative argumentative piece — I knew immediately and without a doubt what I would be writing about. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy. Reliving those memories, all of which are still so vivid in my mind, was like ripping the scab off of a wound I had been trying to heal for years. However, since it was a matter so close to my heart, I felt the words pour out of me with ease — it was as if my mind had been aching to tell these stories and was relieved to finally have the proper avenue to get my thoughts across. Thus, even in my very first draft, I was eager to get to work.
I picked these three specific instances and formatted my essay this way because I think this thoroughly depicts the true sentiments of a young girl experiencing such heavy events. Usually, accounts of gun violence are from news stations or other third-party sources, but I think it’s so important to grasp the immensity of the issue by seeing first-hand how it weighs on students themselves. Thus, I found it very effective to tell this story through narrative form.
The timing of this essay was also quite poignant. Merely three weeks after I handed it in, the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 young students and 2 teachers dead. Upon hearing this news, I was frustrated, saddened, and outright impassioned about the continued lack of action by our government. Flags were lowered to half-mast for a few days and some politicians talked about how sorry they felt for the families. Then people got over it. Again. I couldn’t help but reflect on this very assignment and wonder how things could have gone differently if only we had changed legislation sooner. So, for me, this is more than just an essay, it is a movement, and I hope my readers can feel that same passion that I do.
From Professor Elisabeth Whitehead
One of the first writing exercises we did for this project was modeled after Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. After spending the class period discussing several specific narrative passages by Walls and highlighting the ways she creates a sense of immediacy and voice, such as metaphor, sensory language, and dialogue, students began thinking about their own stories and advocacy, setting the physical, emotional, and tonal scene for their audiences.
In the 10 to 15 minutes that I allotted for this initial writing experiment, Allie wrote the first draft of the lockdown scene. Even in this first attempt, she included details such as hearing the sound of her classmates’ breathing, sitting with her knees curled up to her chest, and being unnerved when hearing her teacher’s frazzled voice. After seeing her paragraphs, I asked if Allie wouldn’t mind sharing her writing with the class. Like me, her classmates clearly identified with and were deeply moved by her words. When I asked how she was able to write such formed and precise paragraphs so immediately, she told me that the issue and these experiences are always just under the surface for her. She has lived them often in her mind, and she has easy access to the emotions of these moments.
As writers, the ability to be fully present in our experiences and then to be able to access the details of those memories again, and finally to express those moments with authenticity and vulnerability are extremely important in creating connection with our readers. Allie’s willingness to both tap back into difficult memories and then to share them with us, with such honesty, allows her to reach us more immediately as an audience. Her willingness to experiment with her language and approach as a writer are additional reasons why we as readers are opened to our own emotional connection with her and her advocacy.
Allie took risks as a writer, allowing the essay to feel even more dynamic. Organizing by date, for instance, almost as if she was writing journal entries, gives the essay an even more intimate feel. She reflects and asks questions, allowing her to share her concerns and passions, and deeply held (and growing) convictions, which calls her readers to action in a more subtle way. Her research is integrated fluidly within the context of the narrative, resulting in a powerful and cohesive argument. But throughout, she reminds us that behind the statistics are the individual names and stories, from the 6-year-olds who lost their lives at Sandy Hook, to her own classmate who ran through the hidden path to the safety of his door, to Allie herself, shutting and locking her own door behind her, arriving home after a shooting threat at the school.
For your fourth paper, develop an argument built on the foundation of personal narrative on an issue of concern to you.
Narrative arguments make it possible for writers to illustrate a point by appealing to their audience, invoking experience, and creating a sense of identification with the controversy at hand. Key to creating an effective narrative argument is establishing credibility (your audience must believe you and trust your presentation) and establishing representativeness (the audience needs to understand that your narrative reflects a larger problem beyond the scope of its events).
Choose a subject that is tightly focused. You will want to keep your work balanced rhetorically by accompanying the emotional appeal of your story with strong credibility and with logical evidence (both anecdotal and researched) to support your claims.
Think in terms of an experience that made you realize that something was wrong or that something needed to be changed, and from which you gained essential knowledge about yourself and about the workings of the world around you. Tell a story that allows you to establish your position on the controversy and provide support for your claims. A well-told story often engages in vivid description. Create presence in your details. Your readers should really feel that they too, by reading your account, are there beside you, and can hear, see, smell, and touch those surroundings. Clean and vivid details can help set scene and tone. Therefore, be specific, descriptive, and engaging.
Successful papers will provide a rhetorically balanced narrative argument and will be clearly and engagingly written. You should conduct enough research to provide relevant, external support for your position. Your paper should include at least three sources (books, magazines, journals, newspapers, interviews, films, and/or texts from the academic databases), but use as many sources as you need.
- 1From a child’s perspective, Allie played out her inner thoughts and emotions.
- 2While being cute, peaceful, and relatable to the audience’s childhood, this scene creates the feeling of isolation from the rest of the turmoil and builds contrast.
- 3Italics and a line break here are cleverly used, augmenting the level of urgency and significance.
- 4The anecdotes of the four children, written in a paralleled form, appeal to the gripping emotion of readers.
- 5This serves as a good transition to the following section: something did happen again.
- 6Allie lets us into her mind, as quick and frightening thoughts move through.
- 7“Sledgehammer” is such an eloquent metaphor used here that cracked open the formidable part of the world and a child’s previously innocent heart.
- 8Promoting the thoughts of the audience, this rhetorical question reflects the severity of violence, which has developed to be part of our everyday life.
- 9This section wraps up in a way that indicates Allie is going to take action.
- 10This is a good lead-in sentence, connecting the previous paragraph with the next one.
- 11Allie has her readers in mind; her choice of including how she experienced gun violence enhances readability and helps create resonance among readers.
- 12This section is crucial by relating to the current world and making us realize why we are reading this today.
- 13Referring to the opening of the passage, Allie created a closed loop that reminds us what happened and what we should never forget.