Changing the world can happen in a million different ways. From activists with picket signs to faith-sharing missionaries, or teachers with books to a writer with a pen – each one is shaping their world for the better. Mary Claire Molloy is proving just how powerful the pen and paper – as well as a strong voice – can be.

Now in her senior year at Brebeuf Jesuit, writing has been a longtime passion for Mary Claire. During her sophomore year, she began her own blog (SincerelyMC.com), where she writes op-eds, original writing and interviews with public figures, other writers, activist and musicians. Her blog has become her “little corner of the internet” to share her views of the world and what she sees happening around her. Additionally, it’s been a space for her to grow as, not only a writer, but as a free thinker in a fast-paced, politically-charged and, often, scary time in history. It’s allowed her to shape and share her views as an 18-year-old student on stories people many years her senior often have difficulty processing.

Most recently, Mary Claire has bravely faced the issue of gun violence in our country. Following the Parkland school shooting in February 2018, Mary Claire, along with several other students, led and organized Brebeuf’s participation in the national school walkout demonstration to discuss the issue of gun violence in schools from both sides of the aisle. Following the walk-out, she knew there had to be more she could do. A few short months later, Mary Claire was approached about participating in a project titled “Since Parkland.” “Since Parkland” was started by the Trace, a newsroom dedicated to covering gun violence, and the Miami Herald. The project enlisted 200 teenage journalists from around the country to continue telling the stories of the 1200 children and teens killed by gun violence since the 2018 Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Mary Claire has researched and written about 48 profiles for children (as young as nine months old) and teens who have died from gun violence within the last year. Often, this research has taken her and her fellow journalists from scouring obituaries and Facebook pages to talking directly with the victim’s parents to shape a 100-word profile on who the child was and the life, no matter how short, they lived. In addition to writing profiles, Mary Claire has led the project’s social media campaign and was chosen as one of the student representatives, granting her numerous major news outlet interviews including being quoted recently in the New York Times (read the New York Times story here).

For Mary Claire, “Since Parkland” has been a haunting, but immensely rewarding experience – one that has certainly shaped her writing and journalism career forever. And we know that for Mary Claire using her voice to change the world won’t stop with “Since Parkland.” We’re excited to see where her writing takes her from here and all the change she will bring with just a simple pen in hand.

See below for our full interview with Mary Claire.

Tell us a bit about the “Since Parkland” project.

For the last six months, 200 teenage journalists from all over the country wrote profiles for every single child shot and killed since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting on February 14, 2018. The project was organized and published by the Trace, a newsroom dedicated to covering gun violence, and the Miami Herald, Parkland’s regional newspaper.

Fourteen students died in hallways and classrooms last Valentine’s day. A year later, nearly 1,200 kids and teenagers have lost their lives to gun violence; they met their ends in accidental shootings, homicides, mass shootings, domestic violence incidents, murder-suicides, and drive-by shootings.  While we often hear about school shooting incidents, we never hear about the children who are silently dying from daily gun violence in cities and towns all over America. No one has collected these stories and chronicled the massive loss of life until the Since Parkland project, which was born to combat the imbalance of news coverage and humanize the young victims with unique 100 word profiles.

How did you get involved and what was your role in this project?

I got involved in the project through a previous connection to one of its editors, Katina Paron. I was one of the several student journalists and writers she invited to apply to join the project.

For the past six months, I researched and wrote profiles about 48 children and teenagers who died from gun violence this year as a reporter for Since Parkland. I would often spend my free PRTs working on the project in the library, sometimes meeting with Mrs. Neukam when I needed editing help or support.

I was later invited to be a Teen Outreach Editor for the project. I joined a team of two other students tasked with creating the #SinceParkland social media campaign and writing guidelines for the other student journalists about promoting the project online and in their communities. Right before the project launched, I was invited to travel to New York City to work in the Trace’s newsroom for six days. I worked with editors and other student journalists to finish the profiles and finalize social outreach plans. I was also chosen as one of the student representatives of the project and received press training for interviews. I got the call from the New York Times for an interview when I was in a cab on the way to the airport to fly home.

The shear breadth of a project like this is staggering. What challenges did you face along the way?

The emotional toll of working on Since Parkland was very real for me. The permanence of death only hit me half way through the project–I remember thinking, “These kids are all dead and they’re never coming back.” It was easy to forget while I was writing because each kid seemed so vibrant and alive; after all, I was spending hours searching through news articles, social media posts, GoFundMe pages for funeral expenses, and online obituaries to discover important details about who they were in order to capture their lives in written profiles. I know that the grief I felt while writing about them is only a fraction of what their families and friends experience daily.

Certain stories will always haunt me–including the youngest victim I wrote about, Jason Garcia Perez, who was nine months old when he died in a murder-suicide alongside his two-year-old brother and four-year-old sister; his father shot them all before taking his own life. I will never forget that story and the struggle I had trying to capture the life of someone who was only on this earth for nine months.

After the project finished, I asked my editor about the best way to process the 48 lives I chronicled in Since Parkland. On the website, every victim gets a star that was designed specifically for them with unique shapes and colors. My editor told me, “You don’t have to hold onto their stories anymore. Let their stars be a part of the constellation that is Since Parkland.”

What has been the most rewarding part of working on this project?

The most rewarding part of working on this project was knowing that we did justice to the forgotten stories of child victims of gun violence. When the child or teenager was left nameless in news reports, we worked to find their name. When there was little information available, we messaged or called family members. The project wasn’t about policy or politics; it was about shattering the desensitization that so many Americans feel when they read headlines about gun violence. It’s so easy to think of these victims as mere statistics; it’s much harder when you read their story, and find out that they were just like you– athletes, musicians, community volunteers, college-bound seniors–the list is endless. These children should not just be remembered for how they died–they should be remembered for who they were in life: what they loved, who they touched, -and all of the marks they left on this world before they left it too early. Since Parkland accomplishes that.

For those who may not know, you have your own blog. Tell us about it and how you decide what to write.

I’ve written for my own blog, SincerelyMC.com, since my sophomore year. It receives an average of 2,000 views a month and is my own little corner of the internet where I share original writing, interviews, and op-eds. I often write about topics and current events that I am passionate about, including social issues and politics. Sometimes I write simple pieces about my own experiences. Other times, I reach out to public figures, writers, activists, and musicians who inspire me for interviews. The platform is very open in terms of content–I just want everything I write to feel sincere before I click the “post” button.

For those visiting your blog for the first time, which story/post would you recommend they read first?

On the topic of gun violence, I had a chance to interview a Parkland survivor. She was also the yearbook photographer, tasked with capturing her classmates and other public figures at the March For Our Lives in DC (Click here to read this post).

If you’re looking for something lighter, check out my interview with Loyola Chicago’s Sister Jean (Click here to read this post).

What’s next for you?

I am not sure what exactly is next for me! I’ve been offered some other freelance journalism opportunities that I am currently looking into. Until those are solidified, I want to continue putting my energy into promoting Since Parkland. I’m hoping to plan a Brebeuf event in which students read some of the profiles of the Since Parkland victims out loud, and then have a conversation about every-day gun violence. I did not write any blog posts during the project, but I hope to pick that back up and continue developing my writing and reporting skills.

Photos courtesy of Miles Kohrman and The Trace