Sarah Clements (COL ’18) began her journey in activism after tragedy hit her hometown of Newtown, Conn., four years ago, transforming her fierce grief into a vitality aimed at bringing about positive change. Her compelling tale begins in the midst of the shock wave caused by the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the deadliest massacre ever to occur at a school in U.S. history.
The mass shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six of her mother’s colleagues would forever alter the course of Clements’ life. At the close of that fateful month of December 2012, Clements had gone from writing in solitude for a literary magazine and standing still on the rostra of debate competitions to marching on the streets of D.C. with thousands of fellow activists for gun reform legislation.
Throughout the first three years of high school, Clements’ artistic personality explored many outlets of expression, finally settling into filmmaking by fall of her junior year. At this time, Clements abruptly moved from her comfortable lifestyle and embarked on a new, demanding path. In the following months and almost four years now since, she has been involved with gun violence prevention organizing and activism work.
“It’s been a whirlwind experience with many low, low points marked by ongoing tragedies and high points marked by relationships with some of the most inspiring, courageous people in our country,” Clements wrote.
The life-changing moment came when her high school principal filled the void left in the wake of the shooting with a call to love and empathy.
According to Clements, he told students that “our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example for the rest of the world.” A desire to prevent further suffering like the one her community experienced pervaded Sarah and impelled her to plan out possible ways of remedying gun violence across the nation.
A month after the shooting, Sarah attended her first activist event: a march in Washington, D.C., where 100 people from Newtown raised their voices in unison with 6,000 fellow Americans to demand action.
“[Meeting] survivors from other shootings and [hearing] from activists who had been working on this issue for years […] [constituted] a pivotal moment for me to see how huge this issue was, how privileged I had been to live in a community that faced close to no gun violence up till that point,” Clements wrote.
Now, Clements is upholding the value of an honorable vita activa, to borrow Hannah Arendt’s expression, by partaking in Georgetown Against Gun Violence. She hopes to help realize the safe society she strives for by concentrating on “alternative methods of justice-seeking on small and large [scales].” With relentless dedication, she trains herself to become an agent of societal change, sometimes through first-line involvement in progressive advocacy.
“Outside of Georgetown’s campus, I am involved in a couple of projects at a time to get students at other campuses and millennials in general involved in issue-organizing for gun violence prevention,” Clements wrote.
The key to Clements’ ideal world is activism. She undertakes extra challenges to further her knowledge of conflict transformation and community justice, such as spending an entire summer studying international criminal law in The Hague.
Clements is a junior in the College double majoring in government and justice and peace studies with a concentration in restorative and community justice. Justice and community appear to constitute the core of all Clements’ effort.
“I’ve tried as hard as I can over the past two years to center my life at Georgetown around my friends,” Clements wrote. “[My friends] have become a chosen family who keeps me humble and contemplative on my best days [while] lift[ing] me up and check[ing] on me when I’ve fallen.”
On campus, Clements also participates in the OWN IT Summit, the Jewish Student Association and Georgetown Against Gun Violence. From Rabbi Rachel Gartner’s warmth to the wit of the group of women who keep Clements on her toes, she has found a new home on the Hilltop, in addition to her parents, brother and two dogs, who all still reside in Connecticut.
In the face of these achievements and looking back on her past, Clements recognizes the potential for change.
“Today we have many more organizations than have ever existed in this space, and they range in focus, size, goals and even ideology,” Clements said.
Clements’s progressive and dynamic vision is shared by many around the world, and is becoming more of a reality each day.
“We’ve seen court cases and state legislation passed to restrict gun access to people convicted of felony and misdemeanor domestic violence. We’ve seen multiple leaders elected into office while toting an ‘F’ rating” from the NRA,” Clements said. “We’re about to reach a tipping point in both the politics of the issue and in mobilization of our movement.”