Former NRA president David Keene addressed the graduating class of James Madison Academy on June 4, delivering an impassioned speech in which he told them to follow their dreams, the usual words one would expect at graduation. The only problem: the school doesn’t exist. Keene was told he was rehearsing his speech to an empty stadium but the 3,004 empty chairs in front of him actually represented students killed by gun violence this year. The ruse was planned by Change the Ref, an organization founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver, the parents of Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, who was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018.
Manuel Oliver said the ruse wasn’t to get one over on the NRA but to urge state representatives to pass background check laws. “We lost Joaquin three months before his graduation. We know exactly the feeling of being there and receiving the diploma without your kid being there,” he told BuzzFeed News.