The first time it happened, I was sitting in Honors Chemistry. I usually parked myself in the back of the classroom as a bored high school senior in a class full of juniors, just there to complete my natural science graduation requirement.
Out of the corner of my eye, I sensed movement and turned my head to the side, barely catching a glimpse of a man walking past the open classroom door—just someone walking down the hallway.
Something didn’t feel right. Had I seen him before? Was he a teacher? Had he been holding something in his hand? Thoughts of stoichiometry left behind, my mind raced and dread pooled in my stomach. I looked around for things I could throw at a shooter. If he came back, should I drop to the ground or run?
I looked around. Had no one else noticed him? To some extent, I understood that I was thinking irrationally, but it didn’t matter. Once the thinking started, it didn’t stop. Would he have a pistol or a rifle? Would a wooden desk stop a bullet? Heart racing, I squeezed my eyes shut. Was there even anything I could do?
The bell rang, and I almost fell out of my chair. Slowly, I got up and looked around. Everything was fine. Teenagers flooded the hallway on their way to lunch. I followed them, shaken but trying to forget about what had happened—to go about my day.
That was the first time I remember being terrified of dying. It has happened a lot more since then. I am usually in school or class, maybe in a train station or even an airport, and the idea just pops into my head. What if? I frantically try to formulate a response or anticipate a shooter’s moves. As the world melts away, I spiral. It is a petrifying compulsion that I struggle to control. Sometimes it lasts for just a moment, sometimes it stretches to several minutes or longer.
I don’t really know why the panic started happening, but I know I am not the only person dealing with this fear. Young Americans report the highest levels of anxiety and stress of any age category, and three-quarters of Gen Z youth report mass shootings to be significant drivers of stress.
Gun violence has been a reality for my generation for our entire lives. One December day in third grade, my mother told me on my way out to the bus stop to be extra nice to my teachers. The day before, Adam Lanza had murdered twenty first graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Massacres punctuated our coming of age—Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso, Highland Park. A few years ago, a mass shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte brought that horror within miles of my home.
I was sitting in the Media Commons reading Wednesday night when I started getting texts about the ‘situation’ half an hour down the road in Lewiston. When I opened Twitter and saw the news—Bates students on lockdown, the horrifying loss of life and an at-large gunman—the all-too-familiar panic crept into my heart. I quickly left the library with a friend and walked home.
I’ve made that walk dozens of times, but I hope to never experience it in that way again. I recoiled from passing cars, my steps hesitated with each faraway figure and it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other until I got inside. I shut the blinds and sat down, shaking.
I often hear my generation described as somehow being ‘numb’ to the uniquely American carnage that has unfolded throughout our lifetimes. I am not numb. Slaughter is not something I plan on getting used to. I am still scared, and I think that’s okay. I don’t think I am the only one.
I believe in a future where the killing stops. There’s a lot of policy and cultural changes along that path to that future, but in the meantime, we have to keep on living.
I am working on coming to terms with my fear. It is not something I, or anyone, can do alone. Talk to the people you care about. Rely on each other for support. Being scared is not something I can fix, but it is something we all can manage with a little bit of help.
Check in on your friends, tell them you are scared and tell them you love them.
Stay safe, bears.
John Schubert is a member of the Class of 2026.