Tragedy often brings people with a similar past together. With a common desire to make a difference after the deadly shooting in their hometown on Feb. 14, many Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni found themselves getting in touch with one another, each eager to lend their support to the Parkland/Coral Springs community.
Just hours after the news broke out, friends Judith Danovitch (class of 1996), Rachel Nyswander Thomas (class of 1998) and Kim Moscaritolo (class of 1996), created a Facebook group titled Mobilizing MSD Alumni. They hoped to get in contact with other MSD alumni to figure out a way to help their former beloved city.
“We used the word ‘mobilizing’ because we wanted to focus on alumni actively doing something to help,” Danovitch said. “We invited our friends from MSD to join and, within a few days, we had over 10,000 members.”
Mobilizing MSD Alumni, which now has over 11,500 members, has three main objectives: outreach, advocacy and building alumni community.
According to the group’s website, outreach initiatives deal with providing support to MSD students and teachers, as well as organizing recovery and advocacy projects with the school and the Parkland community.
Advocacy is a much broader initiative, which involves taking action to demand policy change, encouraging voter registration on a national scale and amplifying the voices of student activists and victims’ families.
The community aspect correlates to strengthening alumni connections, finding new alumni and maintaining strong ties to MSD.
One alumnus, Jesse Lapin-Bertone (class of 2000), who still lives in Coral Springs, mainly focuses on the outreach pillar. Through his membership, Lapin-Bertone has had countless opportunities to work with MSD students and teachers.
Lapin-Bertone has aided his help in many service projects; he helped produce the “Shine” music video, supported campus events, such as Dance Marathon and the Feis Bowl, and even brought modulars and furniture on campus so therapy could occur in a private setting during the last few months of the school year.
Recently, Lapin-Bertone helped bring suicide intervention training to staff and students over the summer and wrapped up the installation and training of Stop the Bleed kits for MSD classrooms for the upcoming year. According to the alumni, none of these changes would have been made possible without the overflow of support from the organization.
“I’ve had the opportunity to give back. One usually doesn’t get the chance to repay the teachers and school that helped you grow as a person,” Lapin-Bertone said. “My favorite part is being able to tell the teachers, staff and students when they ask why I volunteer so much – ‘You’re all worth it.’”
Another MSD alumna, Nicole Sloan (class of 2007), now lives in New York City, after graduating from Indiana University. With a background in marketing and social media, Sloan contributed her skills to help run Mobilizing MSD Alumni’s social media accounts.
“To me, that was a way to get involved and help out using the skills I have,” Sloan said. “Within the social media realm I’ve helped in creating posts and letting people know that the alumni are out there and that we are here to help in.”
According to many alumnae like Sloan and Tori Ford, who graduated from MSD in 2013 and then from Elon University in North Carolina in 2017, their favorite part about being included in a group like this is that they have been granted the opportunity to connect with so many alumni they did not know existed or lived by them.
“The best thing is the inspiring and supportive community that has formed from such tragedy,” Ford said. “Alumni I never knew, who only lived a few miles from me in DC, are now great friends. After moving to North Carolina, I felt that I already had a family here, with over 100 plus North Carolina alumni warmly welcoming me back to the state ready to take more action in support of the #neveragain movement.”
Whether receiving their high school diploma recently or years ago, the MSD alumni will forever hold onto their fond memories from when they attended the school. From being president of a club, going to nationals with the band, traveling for Mu Alpha Theta math competitions or sharing MSD school spirit, each alumni has a vivid and unique memory of the high school, remembering the high standards that shaped them into who they are today.
“Since the school was so new, it was always very exciting to experience the ‘firsts,’” one of the four national directors of Mobilizing MSD Alumni, Craig Pugatch (class of 1996) said. “I vividly remember the Marching Eagles — we weren’t Eagle Regiment back then — winning our first Grand Champion title at the Cape Coral marching competition and proudly displaying that first large trophy on the wall with a somewhat empty trophy shelf. I loved coming back over the years and seeing that shelf overflow.”
Though the Feb. 14 shooting at MSD gave additional meaning to the school, the perception of the alumni has not changed. They will hold onto their adored memories as they support the Parkland and Coral Springs communities and fight for change in the country in honor of the 17 victims. As new eagles leave the nest year after year, Mobilizing MSD Alumni encourages them to find a place in their organization and join the effort in supporting their hometown.
This story was originally published in the October 2018 Eagle Eye print edition.