David Hogg survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February and on Tuesday night, he spoke to an audience at Southern Connecticut State University as a part of the university's Social Justice Month. It’s one of many speaking engagements he’s done since the Parkland, Florida mass shooting and part of a new lifestyle Hogg's adjusting to.
After graduating this past May, Hogg, who's 18, opted to take a gap year, partly because he says he "sucked at applying to college" and because he felt a need to continue to speak out against gun violence.
A jet-lagged Hogg sat on a couch in the green room of the Lyman Center. He’d just flown from Florida to Connecticut and before Florida, he was in Cape Town, South Africa accepting International Children’s Peace Prize with other student activists for their work addressing gun violence. Done with answering a round of questions from media, Hogg prepared to address a crowd of hundreds of high school and college students and people of all ages from the community.
"I can't wait to go to college next year and get kind of a normal life, at least to some extent where I have at least some form of routine on a weekly basis," Hogg said, "where I'm expected to show up like somewhere at the same time every day and not get on a flight and go some random place and meet hundreds of people I've never met before."
He's quickly become an outspoken leader yet describes himself as an introvert.
"I was and still am a very introverted person," Hogg said. "Part of this position like just comes with having to be a very extroverted and being outside of your comfort zone, so that's been an interesting experience."
Hogg said he came to speak about civic engagement and the importance of creating youth-led movements but talking gun violence was unavoidable.
"We aren't anti-gun or pro-gun, we're pro people not dying," said Hogg. "That's what we're advocating for is funding research—fundamental things that we should have already been doing before way before the shooting in our high school and way before any other shooting to happen."
When Hogg says 'we,' he’s talking about members of March for Our Lives, the nonprofit named after the march that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington D.C. earlier this year. Hogg and a group of other survivors of gun violence, who are mostly younger than 21, have gone on tours speaking out against gun violence and encouraging people to vote and have used their heightened social media profiles to voice their opinions, often taking to task those in opposition to their viewpoints. They’ve been criticized and threatened.
"People forget the times where me and my friends have been swatted and plotted assassination attempts," said Hogg. "People forget that we are young people that are simply trying to end gun violence in America and it's OK to have a political difference. It's not OK to try to kill children that are trying to change the world."
On tough days, Hogg said he finds himself in comment sections, "reading through all the people that are critical of us in our movement and calling us crisis actors," as a way motivating himself to keep speaking out.
Hogg can, with ease and edge, tell you just how many thousands of people are killed by gun violence, what percentage of gun deaths are suicides, and other statistics related to the issue gun violence.
When flying from one speaking engagement to the next, Hogg will often read books to continue to educate himself about guns, gun violence, and gun culture in America. He recommended David Hemenway's Private Guns, Public Health to the audience.
On other particularly tough days, worn out from exhaustion, Hogg said he's been hospitalized. After a 68-stop summer "Road to Change" tour that ended in Newtown, Conn., followed by a two-week fall "Vote for Our Lives" tour that ended in Parkland, Hogg unplugged.
"I basically didn't respond anybody for a week and went surfing every day,"said Hogg. "That was really nice because I was the first time I had taken off time in eight months and I needed that."
Back on the road, Hogg encouraged the audience to take care of themselves even while working to create change.
"The trauma—I'm not going to say it's not hard but what a lot of people don't talk about is like after you go through something like that there's a lot of community that comes out from it," Hogg said. "That's where I've gotten a lot of my support is just in hanging out with my friends and using them for support while working through all this. One of the hardest things to realize is that we're still basically a group of 25 people that's working on running this nonprofit. And realizing that we still have a lot to learn when it comes to like non-profit law for example. And also it's learning to take an advice from other people that have been through the past but also acknowledging the past failures so we don't repeat them."