What does it mean to be fierce? A lion’s fierceness is measured by the strength of its roar. Mother Nature’s fierceness is measured by the wake of devastation it leaves in its path. A model’s fierceness is measured by the confidence with which she walks down the runway. A mother’s fierceness is measured by the lengths she will go to protect her children.

In the past 39 days, however, we have discovered a new definition of the word fierce: Strong, determined, tireless, passionate, intelligent and … young?

The student-activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have withstood more in the past 39 days than most people do in a lifetime. They have survived a terrifying 6 minute and 20 second barrage of automatic gunfire in what was supposed to be a safe place. They have survived the chaos and panic followed by a brief moment of relief at having survived a lone man’s campaign of terror.

I say brief, for in the seconds, minutes and hours following, that brief moment of relief was supplanted by realization: The realization that the boy who was a force to be recognized in the pool wasn’t going to live to see graduation, let alone compete in a college meet.

The realization that the girl who always sat next to them in class doodling in the margins of her notebook would never mature past a budding artist. The realization that their geography teacher had sacrificed his life as a final line of defense against a seeming endless stream of bullets. The realization that their football coach had displayed one final act of courage and run toward the gunfire and not away. The realization that the life they had always known had changed in a 6 minute and 20 second window.

These young men and women were not left alone long in order to process this new world of theirs. Instead, their town was descended upon by news truck after news truck. And when, with eyes still rimmed red from grief, microphones were shoved in their faces demanding to know the gory details and emotional trauma, they did not hesitate. They did not shrivel. They did not cave in to the terror. Instead, they became fierce.

Through the devastation, they gained strength to demand more than thoughts and prayers. Through the endless services and funerals, they became determined that the deaths of their friends, classmates, and teachers would mean something more than another entry into the history of school shootings.

Despite no prior predilection for being in the spotlight, they worked tirelessly to iterate their demands and intentions on every available news outlet that would listen despite it resulting in them receiving death threats and being called “crisis actors.”

In defiance to becoming another statistic, they discovered a passion for striving for change fueled by the boundless energy of youth. Despite repeated attempts of some media outlets, social media commentators who hide behind the anonymity of their computers, the NRA and the politicians that they own, these activists acted intelligently and organized a national movement. Through a stretch of 39 days that were certainly more exhausting that any of us can know, these children become fierce.

So the question is … is fierceness contagious? After some media coverage and a march in the streets, does this moment of fierceness fade away until it becomes another footnote on the Wikipedia page of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? Not likely.

Today, as I attended the March for Our Lives in my own little slice of small town America here in Brunswick, I saw a crowd that ranged from the elderly with their walkers to the young with their crayon drawn posters.

A crowd that included everyone from tireless teachers to their impassioned students. There were families and couples and individuals there, all with one common goal: never again.

So you can yell your disagreement. You can scream your obscenities. You can toe the party line with your NRA drafted cookie cutter arguments. But I have news for you: The youth of this country are angry, they are united, and they are fierce. You may be fighting for your rights, but they? They are fighting for their lives.

Alesha Coffin