The Kids are All Right: Honoring student activists and civic leaders in Leelanau County schools


Northport senior Lillian Kinker is fighting to change the school dress code and also organized a student walkout on March 14—the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Photos by Taro Yamasaki.

By Stephanie Purifoy

Sun contributor

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, and the student response in the days that followed, was the strike of a match in the tinder box that is gun control politics in the United States. The massacre, which claimed the lives of 14 students and three teachers, ignited a wave of student protests that prompted high schoolers around the nation to walk out of class a month later and attracted hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives on March 24. Students at the high school level are leading the charge in a polarizing debate that pits gun control advocates against gun rights enthusiasts.

Students in communities across the country are taking the lead and also raising their voices about other causes dear to their generation: the environment, climate change and gender equality. Here are a few students from Leelanau County’s four public schools who are stepping forward as activist and civic leaders. With high school graduation upon us, we celebrate their courage and wisdom.


Lillian Kinker, senior, Northport

Lillian Kinker from Northport has many titles on her resume. She is the class of 2018 valedictorian, Student Council vice president, National Honor Society president and Youth Advisory Council vice president. She’s also done a lot for her school community, like fighting for a different dress code at her school.

Kinker found that many of the policies in the dress code were biased against girls and seemed unnecessary. She went to her counselor and superintendent and worked with them to craft a new one that would be fairer toward girls at Northport.

“I don’t want any other girl to feel embarrassed about their body,” she said. “School is about school. It shouldn’t be about the clothes that you wear and people should be able to express themselves. In that moment, it kind of felt up to me to make sure no one else ever had to be targeted by the dress code.”

Kinker also organized a walkout at Northport on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland. She said the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have inspired her and millions of others like her to stand up for what they believe.

“It makes me feel a little more comfortable stepping out,” she said about the Parkland students and their movement. “It makes me feel a little less alone when protesting and trying to make a difference because I know there are thousands of other kids out there who are trying to do the same thing.”

About 15-20 Northport students walked out on March 14. Not all Northport students were supportive but Kinker felt she had to be the one to do it. When it comes to activism and changing things in the community, Kinker said many of her peers seem content with sitting back until they get to college or beyond.

“That’s kind of how it goes at Northport,” she said. “People think they’re not going to be there for that long so if you don’t do anything about it, it’s okay. But if people keep doing that, nothing will ever change.”

Kinker will attend the University of Michigan in the fall to study art and photography. She hopes the kids she is leaving behind will use her as an example of what can happen if they go after what they want.

“I would hope that the young people understand that nothing will happen unless they make it happen,” Kinker said. “They have to protest, they have to go and try to change the dress code, or whatever it is. They have to push for it, no one’s going to do it for them. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.”


Jeremiah Dungjen, sophomore, Glen Lake

Motivated by the school shootings from Columbine to Parkland, Glen Lake sophomore Jeremiah Dungjen has been marching for stronger gun controls to make schools safer. Photo by Taro Yamasaki.

Jeremiah Dungjen stepped out of Glen Lake school at 10 a.m. on April 20. His absence was not excused but he walked out for a particular reason. This was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that left 13 victims dead and 21 injured in Colorado. Dungjen expected to see more students walk out but he was the only one. He said he remembered thinking that if it was just him, then he’d better do it right.

He marched around the school alone for five hours.

Dungjen wanted to do this to protest the lack of substantive gun control legislation passed by the federal government. He also participated in Glen Lake’s walkout on March 14, a month after the Parkland shooting. He said the atmosphere at that walkout was peaceful.

“We walked around the building and I feel like it had an impact,” Dungjen said. “We definitely made our presence known.”

The recent school shootings around the country have prompted a discussion at Glen Lake about the possession and use of firearms. Dungjen, whose family doesn’t own any guns, said he wouldn’t be negatively affected by tighter gun control laws and tries to converse about it with his fellow students.

“When I ask them why they own an AR-15, the best answer they can give me is that ‘it’s fun’,” he said. “With the body count where it is, I don’t think ‘it’s fun’ is a good enough excuse anymore.”

Dungjen admits that his views and beliefs differ from those of many students in the school but he doesn’t let that bother him. He appreciates those willing to have civil debates instead of arguments with him.

While he hasn’t marched for many initiatives before this, Dungjen wants to remain involved and active. The students from Parkland have inspired him and thousands of others around the country to stand up for what they believe in. He also thinks that these movements have helped to change public opinion about the younger generations.

“I get a lot of compliments for our generation because we’re kicking butt, taking names, and changing laws,” he said. “I don’t see this movement dying out. The difference has been made, young people are coming out to marches in record numbers and registering to vote in record numbers and you can’t go back from that.”

“This is our movement. This is going to be something big.”

Dungjen, a sophomore, hopes to go to Germany for college to perfect his German and eventually to study international marketing.


Mallory Lund, senior, Glen Lake

“It’s important to do what you believe in,” says senior Mallory Lund, a member of the Students for World Awareness organization at Glen Lake High School. Photo by Taro Yamasaki.

Mallory Lund was a sophomore at Glen Lake when she joined Students for World Awareness (SWA), an organization that raises awareness about local and global issues and works on solutions. Lund said before she joined the club was coasting. But then the group got a new faculty advisor and decided to do something greater than beach clean ups and fundraisers. SWA decided to convince Glen Lake to switch away from plastic silverware and start a recycling and composting program.

The school quickly agreed to switch to reusable, metal silverware, but composting and recycling was harder. Lund said a dialogue unfolded with the custodial and kitchen staff to find someone who would take the recycling and composting off school property and properly dispose of it.

SWA members divided into teams to cover shifts during the high school lunch period. They directed students and staff where to put their waste and fix anything that the other students missed. The process wasn’t always easy.

“It’s really frustrating when you’re standing up there next to three trash cans and watching freshmen boys purposefully do it wrong when they know that you’re the worker that will have to pick the things out of the trash that aren’t supposed to be there, but they still do it anyways,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, whether I should say something or just let it go. A lot of times, ignoring it is saying that it’s okay to treat someone like that so most of the times I would say something.”

Lund knows she gets labeled for being in SWA but says it’s worth it.

“I wanted to set an example for younger kids,” she said. “Very few of my friends are in SWA and that’s okay. It’s okay to not have the same beliefs of your friends. It’s important to do what you believe in and if your friends attack you for it or don’t accept you for it then they’re not your friends.”

The Parkland shooting sent ripples through Glen Lake school. A month later, about 50-70 students walked out of school, even though Lund describes Glen Lake’s student body as largely conservative. Lund said it’s been difficult to have serious conversations about what is happening in this country. Class conversations that turn political quickly became arguments.

“People here like to be comfortable and it’s comfortable to think what the rest of your classmates here think,” Lund said. “Even if you don’t think alike, it’s uncomfortable to confront someone about that.”

Lund said she thinks a solution to this could be more instruction from teachers on how to respectfully disagree with someone.

“It’s important to know how to make a connection with someone and treat them with respect, even if they have differing viewpoints. Kids just need practice having these conversations.”

Lund will study computer science at Wayne State University in Detroit this fall.


Will Lewellin, junior Suttons Bay

When Will Lewellin was a sophomore at Suttons Bay, he had a free period with one of his friends Cameron Kitchen. Instead of using the time as a study period or taking another online class, Lewellin decided to use it to address a problem he had noticed since 2011 when he first started attending Suttons Bay. The classrooms had recycling bins but no one was collecting them and disposing of the contents properly. He convinced Kitchen to help, and the duo started collecting the recycling themselves.

Once they had coordinated everything with the custodians and secretaries to get from building to building, one of the biggest challenges for Lewellin was the physical distance to the recycling dumpster. Suttons Bay doesn’t have a designated dumpster for recycling but there is a municipal recycling container in the elementary school parking lot. Lewellin and Kitchen developed a system of storing the waste collected from the recycling bins in an empty classroom and then transporting the bags out to the dumpster by car every two weeks.

“Sometimes there’s massive amounts of stuff,” Lewellin said. “We get staff rooms and cafeterias so we get all the cardboards from food shipments. It’s a lot but it wasn’t getting done before. Until we started doing this, all that material had been going to waste.”

After talking with an administrator, Lewellin convinced the school to approach American Waste about getting a recycling dumpster near the high school. He hopes to recruit more of his fellow students to help with the work because he wants to focus on composting at the school next.

Another challenge was the behavior of the students and teachers. Since there wasn’t a system in place to dispose of the recycling, students and teachers never got into the habit of using the bins. Lewellin and Kitchen had to work with the teachers to build new habits within the school. Now a year and a half into the project, Lewellin says he has seen the behavior of his classmates completely change.

“I feel like this program has gotten people to think more about where they put their plastic and their cans,” he said. “Just the fact that one of their classmates is actually caring about this and doing this means that they should probably put in a bit more thought. I’ve seen them do it, even when they don’t know I’m in the room. They put stuff in the trash can and then move it.”

Lewellin said he has always wanted to stay unaffiliated with clubs which is why he did this independently.

“I like to focus more on the issues. Sometimes people can stereotype you if you’re in a club and put you in boxes. I like to stay out of that and let the individual things I do speak for themselves.”

After high school Lewellin said he wants to study engineering with a career goal of designing and building solar panels. He hopes the issue of climate change and the environment can become less associated with politics in the future.

“I don’t think environmentally friendly things should be thought of as a political initiative because then you just have half the country pointlessly going against them,” Lewellin said, “I’m hoping that maybe in the next 10, 20 years politics can become less two sides and issues can become less politicized.”


Brooke Clarke, senior, Leland

Every Monday after school for the last three years, Brooke Clarke has volunteered at Leelanau Christian Neighbors’ baby pantry and food pantry, earning no money and little recognition while doing so.

Her friend Natalie Hagstrom convinced her to come and volunteer once. After that, they worked together for two years before Hagstrom graduated. Clarke wants to carry on helping at the pantry as long as possible.

She works in the pantry, helping out families and answering questions. She also works in the back taking inventory and sorting through supplies.

“I love all the old ladies and it’s a really fun environment to be in,” Clarke said. “Everyone is really nice. I also love babies and kids so that’s great to be with them when they come in and it’s nice to help out all the families. For me, it’s fun and I think it’s a little sad that everyone is so focused on making money.”

The Leland senior plans to study nursing at Grand Valley State this fall.

Clarke said most of her friends do community service but for National Honor Society and some are confused about why she does additional community service outside of the clubs.

“I’ve always loved community service but for a long time I felt like I didn’t have a lot of connections,” she said. “Now the people I work with are like my second family.”

She said many students seem interested in the idea of community service but don’t understand what it’s like or get discouraged by the stigma behind it. She also recognizes that many of her classmates are busy with sports and other obligations but thinks almost everyone has at least some time to give.

“Every teenager is looking for a job and not a volunteer opportunity,” she said. “There’s so much pressure on people our age to make money to pay for college or for a car and that definitely contributes to fewer people volunteering.”

Clarke thinks that if more people talked about community service, they would realize how fun it can actually be. She said that the protests for the March for Our Lives movement are a great example of how young people can mobilize themselves to conquer an issue and thinks that could be translated to community service if only more people knew about the different opportunities available.