Sitting on the concrete garden bench, with legs crossed and in a chest-out posture, she dons not only her gorgeous graduation gown but an infectious smile as she poses for the cameras.
Aalayah Eastmond’s ribbon-fastened mortarboard comfortably sits on her long plaited hair, which flows top-down like a waterfall, completely burying her shoulders.
“Yesterday, I graduated [from] college! B.A. in Criminal Justice,” she wrote a caption for her shared photos on her Instagram page on May 22, 2023, a day after the graduation ceremony. For those who know the young woman from both near and far, it comes as no surprise her choice of course studied for her bachelors.
In 2018, 19-year-old trigger-happy Nikolas Cruz went on a shooting expedition at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He killed 17 and injured another 17.
Aalayah Eastmond was one of the lucky survivors of that horrific attack. In an interview with TODAY, a year after the incident, Ms. Eastmond said she first took it as a drill when pandemonium erupted in the school. But little did she know that Nikolas Cruz, an expelled former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had come for a real deal.
“It sounded like extremely loud pops … we all paused, and it was immediate eye contact with everybody in the classroom. And we just froze. And then we heard it again,” she told TODAY.
Aalayah Eastmond says when things got out of hand, she had no option but to quickly dash under the body of a classmate who had been shot dead.
“I remember telling myself that’s what I would do in that situation, because I have to look like I’m dead… And at that point, I was just talking to God because I knew I was gonna die,” parts of her interview with TODAY read.
Nikolas Cruz’s deadly Valentine’s Day gift to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School would later turn Aalayah Eastmond into an activist against gun violence.
Speaking at the fifth anniversary of the shooting, Gray DC, a Washington DC-based news outlet, captured Ms. Eastmond, saying: “At this point, especially five years since Parkland, we should be seeing a decrease of gun violence in this country, but here we’re experiencing the complete opposite, an increase. So, especially for survivors and people that have lost loved ones to this disease of gun violence, it’s definitely very difficult.”
Studying for a Bachelor in Criminal Justice, therefore, is a catalyst in Aalayah Eastmond’s fight to clamp down on gun violence. Her activism has, so far, been noticed and duly recognized.
In 2018, she was honoured at the BEAR Awards, and in January 2020, while standing next to a prominent figure, former President Bill Clinton (also an honoree), the National Action Network honoured her with the MLK Day Youth Award.
Aalayah Eastmond says she aims to become a defense attorney in the near future.