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2024 MLK Day Essay Contest

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Quantity is Not the Purpose
Written by Leila S. in 10th Grade


I am America’s poster child for a high school student. I make good grades, never miss a deadline, and in my free time, I read. And, under my academic exterior, is just a girl trying to figure out life. A girl that can change the world, either in a good or bad way, just by the movement of her fingers. She is made up of the pieces of people who made an impact on her life, and one bad person can shatter everything and leave someone else’s life on the line. That one person who made hurtful comments about her body, or excluded her, is the reason why she bought a gun, and is determined to fulfill its purpose, to end a life. It doesn’t matter that five hundred other people love her, it is the one person who said the opposite, and that is the reason why five bodies no longer have life in them. It is not about the quantity of the message, it is the purpose of the message.

In 2023, the amount of school shootings in the United States ranged from 82-340. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that that is a big gap. I don’t care about the gap, I care that there were at least 82 school shootings in 2023. These numbers are not slowing down, they are only increasing. Rapidly. Since 2008, the year I was born, 19% of Michigan schools have had a school shooting. My mother should not have to worry when she drops me off at school, if my safety is in question. I am not playing devil’s advocate, but those school shooters were at one point just a student like myself until someone came along and changed them. And here is a scary thought, what if that person is someone you know, or what if that person is you?

Everyone has made a hurtful comment at some point in their life. That comment is scientifically proven to be remembered better than the nice comment you say five minutes later. I’m not saying that you are going to turn someone into a school shooter, I am saying that these are the building blocks that create a school shooter. I’ll say it again, it is not the quantity of the message, it is the purpose of the message.

The people who surround us are the people who shape us. My generation is the future, so I ask you, how do you want to surround us? Will you surround us with the opportunities to love ourselves and each other, or will you surround us with the opportunities to see each other as competition and inevitably hate ourselves? I am Leila Sundararajan, and I want to know whether you will be handing me a gun or a speech.

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