"Three years ago, your lives and the lives of this community were changed in an instant. This class lost a piece of its soul," the president told graduates

June 10, 2021 01:52 PM
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Joe Biden Parkland graduation address
Joe Biden
| Credit: White House

President Joe Biden this week surprised graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School - the site of a 2018 mass shooting - with a pre-recorded message in honor of their achievement, according to The Miami Herald.

In his roughly two-minute taped remarks on Tuesday, Biden drew on the tragedy of 2018, in which 17 people were killed and 17 others were injured (many of them teenagers), saying the 2021 class of graduates had "lost a piece of its soul."

"Three years ago, your lives and the lives of this community were changed in an instant. This class lost a piece of its soul," Biden, 78, told the Parkland, Florida, students, who were freshman when the shooting take place.

He continued: "You've been tested in ways no young person should ever have to face. From a freshman year - a year of unspeakable loss - to a junior and senior year upended by a pandemic. But the story of this class and the Parkland community isn't just a story of pain. It's a story of resilience."

Saying that the graduates had built a legacy of turning "darkness to light," the president added, "No graduation class gets to choose the world into which they graduate. But every once in a while, every few generations, young people come along at a point in history with a chance to make real change. The world has already seen just how capable you are."

As Biden noted, many students of the high school have gone on to become vocal activists against gun violence in the wake of the shooting, organizing the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., (an event that expanded to include more than 400 related demonstrations) to demand changes in gun legislation.

In February, Biden called on Congress to enact stricter gun laws, issuing a statement that coincided with the three-year anniversary of the shooting.

He said in that statement that his administration's policy is aimed at making schools and communities safer by enacting laws to reduce gun violence.

"Three years ago today, a lone gunman took the lives of 14 students and three educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida," the statement read. "In seconds, the lives of dozens of families, and the life of an American community, were changed forever."

"We owe it to all those we've lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change," his statement continued. "The time to act is now."

After recent mass shootings in GeorgiaColorado and California, Biden also said he would sign a series of executive actions related to gun violence.

Those actions included tightening regulations on "ghost guns," which are homemade firearms made from kits or parts bought online that typically don't have traceable serial numbers; and instructing the Department of Justice to draft sample "red flag" legislation for more states to adopt. 

Still, the administration wants more to be done and has detailed the gun law reforms they want Congress to enact - though any such legislation faces long odds given Republican opposition and the slim Democratic majorities.

Among the Biden-backed changes are requiring background checks on gun sales, a passage of a national "red flag" law, a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and "eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets," according to the White House.