Parkland Student: March Was 'Just The Start' Sam Zeif, like other Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, has become a familiar face on Twitter and on television since a gunman killed 17 of his classmates and teachers last month.

Parkland Student: March Was 'Just The Start'

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Most of us experienced the March For Our Lives this past weekend through photos or articles. But for a small group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School it was a total whirlwind. They were in the spotlight showing their grief and their conviction that change is needed to the world.


One of those students is Sam Zeif. He's been on our program before just after the shooting. This weekend, he came to Washington for the march. And we sent our producer Sam Gringlas to spend time with him, reflecting on the change he hoped the march would bring and also remembering the friend he lost in the shooting just a few weeks ago.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Sam Zeif is one of the Parkland students you might have seen on TV a lot in the past few weeks. He's tall and skinny, a basketball player. He's got a goatee, and the front of his hair is dyed blond. He's not an organizer of the March For Our Lives. But in the wake of the shooting at his high school he stumbled into public view as he grieved for his best friend Joaquin Oliver, who died that day in Parkland.


SAM ZEIF: My name is Sam Zeif. I'm a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

GRINGLAS: This was at the White House a week later at a listening session with President Trump along with lots of other students, parents of past mass shooting victims, members of the administration. At one point, as he spoke, Sam just fell apart.


ZEIF: How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I'm sitting with a mother that lost her son. It's still happening.

GRINGLAS: That was a month ago. And since then, life for Sam Zeif has gone on. His basketball team won their championship. He kept going to class. It's his senior year, and he got into Florida State, his dream school. And Thursday he arrived in Washington, D.C., for the march with his family and a packed schedule.


KATY TUR: Joining me on set here in the newsroom is Sam Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman...

ERICA HILL: Sam Zeif. Good to have both of you with us.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: With us here tonight is our old friend Sam Zeif.

GRINGLAS: And after all those interviews wrapped, his basketball team was honored on the court at a Washington Wizards game. And then finally he found a moment to grab some food.

Whenever you guys are ready. Have a slice of pizza, though. Just before the pizza...

Between bites of pizza, I ask about the march. What's he expecting? Is he excited? But his mind isn't really there. It's on his friend.

ZEIF: It's almost hard to describe him. He's so unique, just absolutely beautiful, just, like, a beautiful face like an angel.

GRINGLAS: Joaquin Oliver was 17. He was captain of the basketball team. His dad was the coach. He was born in Venezuela and moved here when he was 3. His friends call him Guac. And Sam says he was a really good friend - a free spirit.

ZEIF: My favorite moments with him where, like, in the car, OK? He'd always dance. He would move as much as possible in his seat. I think even sometimes he would put his booty in the air.

GRINGLAS: There are happy memories and really hard ones. He talks about how he and Guac had had a fight and they didn't talk for a long time. And then in the middle of the pizza shop the night before this big public event on guns and policy, Sam Zeif just starts crying.

ZEIF: I wish I had more time with him.

GRINGLAS: He cries for a long time. His girlfriend hands him napkins to wipe away his tears. These days, Sam says he spends a lot of time with the other people in their friend group. That's made it a little easier to grieve together outside of the spotlight.

ZEIF: We all kind of have our own little pieces of him. And I guess when we're together it kind of feels somewhat - not even, but somewhat whole again, you know? It makes me sad each time, but I never get tired of talking about him, you know?

GRINGLAS: The next morning in the hotel lobby...

ZEIF: I need coffee.

GRINGLAS: ...Sam Zeif is bleary-eyed. He does not seem like a morning person. But there to greet him around 9:30 a.m. were three TV crews that had been given the OK to follow him to the march, including one from Germany.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Could we go downstairs on the street and do a little walk? Or we...

GRINGLAS: There's a lot of waiting. And then finally...

ZEIF: We're about to all get in the cars and go over to the march.

GRINGLAS: We caravan to the march, passing armored trucks that have blocked off the streets. There are streams of people carrying signs all headed towards the National Mall for the route.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Vote them out. Vote them out. Vote them out.

GRINGLAS: When we get there Sam is ushered away. His family gets special passes. And he sits on a set of chairs to the side of the stage as mostly students from all over the country go up and speak.

ZEIF: It was crazy overlooking the whole march. It was just like a sea of people that never ended.

GRINGLAS: Hundreds of thousands of people filled Pennsylvania Avenue.

ZEIF: To think that there were 836 other marches just like that was remarkable.

GRINGLAS: The rally itself was several hours long, and a bunch of Sam's classmates spoke.

ZEIF: Out of all the speeches, I liked Alex Wind's the most.


ALEX WIND: To those people that tell us that teenagers can't do anything, I say that we were the only people that could have made this movement possible.


GRINGLAS: And at one point, senior Sam Fuentes actually threw up on stage from nerves or excitement or just the weight of the moment. She spat, laughed it off and kept going.

ZEIF: That was crazy (laughter). But it was also kind of good for kind of showing that all these big things that we're doing, we're still kids.


JENNIFER HUDSON: (Singing) So we've got to change it before...

GRINGLAS: Jennifer Hudson was one of the performers. And toward the end she's up on the stage backed up by a choir, and there are a whole bunch of Parkland kids surrounding her with their arms around each other. Sam is standing right next to her, and he's stretched out a big T-shirt to honor his friend.

ZEIF: Just like anything, I was doing it for Guac.


HUDSON: (Singing) My heart show 'cause I got to start so I know...

ZEIF: I seen Clark's dad while I was doing that. And he was just freaking out, losing it, dancing like crazy (laughter).

GRINGLAS: Emma Gonzalez gave the very last speech. She's another senior from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and one of the organizers of the march. And she started naming all 17 of her classmates and teachers who were killed.


EMMA GONZALEZ: Six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15, and my friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice. Aaron Feis would never call Keira (ph) Miss Sunshine.

GRINGLAS: And then she gets to Guac.


GONZALEZ: Liam at lunch. Joaquin Oliver would never play basketball with Sam or Dylan (ph). Alaina Petty would never...

GRINGLAS: She ended her speech with silence, filling out the rest of the time it took for a gunman to take all those lives. That idea is what Sam is thinking about on Sunday morning as he heads to the airport. That after all the marching is done, after the policy arguments have been made and the camera crews have packed up, those people are still gone.

ZEIF: You know, even I feel maybe, like, when we do win this fight, then I won't really have anything to fight for at that point. And then it'll just like [expletive] it, my friend's still not here.

GRINGLAS: Sam's headed back to Parkland, Fla. In the fall, he'll be off to college at a school he was supposed to attend with his friend Guac.

ZEIF: I still want to live the same life that I planned before all this - traveling, starting a family.

GRINGLAS: But it's still going to be a little different.

ZEIF: Oh, yeah, more than a little different. Just everything's going to be different, really.

GRINGLAS: It's different because of what won't be there - the freshman year of college he and Guac would have spent together, more dancing in the car, more pickup games of basketball. He won't have any of that. Sam doesn't know, at least no more than any other 18-year-old knows, what his future will be like. But he knows it'll be shaped by the loss of a good friend gone much too soon. Sam Gringlas, NPR News, Washington.


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