The French flag, alongside the American flag, hung against the front glass doors at West Hall High School, illuminated by flickering candlelight.
About 50 students, teachers and their family members gathered outside the school Tuesday evening for an Assembly of Peace and Solidarity, sponsored by the school’s International Baccalaureate program. The assembly was held in a show of support for France, specifically its capital city of Paris, following terrorist attacks last Friday.
“Everyone here was really touched and moved by what happened,” said West Hall student Lauryn Griffin. “We saw pictures of crowds of people in Paris holding up candles and flags, and we thought our school collectively should do something too.”
Griffin and fellow art students Preston Price and Chrysta Avers worked on a large, live installation, depicting crowds of people with flowers, flags and candles. In the foreground is a brightly lit candle and the petals of a flower laying on the pavement.
Adjacent to the installation was a table with a banner quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
Students and guests signed the banner, which, along with the painting, will be sent to France.
“Since we’re an International Baccalaureate school, we’re sending this to another school in France that is an International Baccalaureate school in Paris,” Avers said.
Most attendees donned blue, white and red and carried white candles. The school choir sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and a long moment of silence was observed as students read the names of the seven locations attacked last Friday.
Senior Kinsey Poland addressed the crowd, encouraging people to spread love in place of fear.
“What happened in Paris Friday night demonstrates the purpose of terrorism: to instill fear,” Poland said. “Fear is a weapon of terrorists used to isolate people, to create a culture of distrust. They want those they terrorize, rather than coming together in solidarity to support peace, to descend into chaos.
“Now we have two choices. Fear or love.”
Her classmate Jake Thompson agreed. Thompson said the purpose of the assembly was not only to share condolences with France, but to show admiration to the nation as well.
“Not only do we stand as allies during these trying times, but also as friends,” he said. “As members of a global society for the greater good of justice and peace, as compatriots who empathize with each other, and as the defenders of what is right in this world, tonight we honor the unity between the United States and France.”
IB program coordinator Andrew McCain made a few remarks in both French and English.
“Today, we come together for a sad yet sincere purpose,” McCain said. “Sad, because we remember those who lost their lives in these horrific terrorist attacks. Sincere, because we are able to demonstrate our strong support for the people of France.”
Poland called a peaceful gathering “the best action” civilians can do in response to acts of terror.
“In these trying times, we, as one amalgamation of diverse people, stand together with love, peace and prosperity,” she said. “The best things we can do are care for each other, grieve for those we have lost and hope for a happier future where terrorism does not stand. Vive la France, and vive la monde.”