PARKLAND, Fla. – Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with students Wednesday for the first full day back at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Wade's visit was a surprise to the students, and a Heat spokesman said the shooting guard arranged the visit on his own.
Some students said he surprised them in the cafeteria, leading to a large crowd surrounding the basketball player.
"I just wanted to come and say that I'm inspired by all of you," Wade told the students. "I'm proud to say I'm from this state because of you guys, because of the future of this world because of you guys, so I just say, 'Thank you, man.'"
Students expressed their gratitude on social media to Wade for the surprise visit.
"Much appreciation goes out to Dwyane Wade for visiting our school and showing his support," Ryan Deitsch posted on Twitter. "Changing the world, one dribble at a time."
Another student called the Wade visit the "greatest moment of my life."
Broward County Public School Board member Dr. Rosalind Osgood said Wade took time to speak with many students at the school, giving them "joy and hope."
"It was phenomenal to our school family today to have a fresh breath of air and Dwayne Wade, who is way more than just an awesome basketball player. He's a great person, a humanitarian. He took so much time talking to our children, talking to them about his life growing up in Chicago with a lot of gun violence, listening to them as they talked about the March on Washington and then our future plans to register voters," Osgood said.
Students told Local 10 News that Wade lifted their spirits.
"It was just nuts. He's one of the best basketball players ever right now, and he's just incredible, and it was just unreal to see him at the school supporting us," Jonathan Blank said.
"Dwyane Wade -- I mean, he lit up the whole school. Everyone was happy," Cooper Brockwaor said.
One of the victims killed in the Parkland shooting, Joaquin Oliver, 17, was also a Wade fan and was even buried in the athlete's No. 3 jersey.
Wade said he is dedicating his season to Joaquin.
After meeting with students Wednesday, Wade tweeted that he looks forward to being involved in the change that Douglas students have been fighting for ever since the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead and 16 others injured.
"I just had a great conversation with some of the students at Stoneman Douglas High School about some important/impactful things that they have planned," he wrote. "I'm looking forward to being more involved in the change that they WILL create. #MSDStrong."
I just had a great conversation with some of the students at Stoneman Douglas High School about some important/impactful things that they have planned. I’m looking forward to being more involved in the change that they WILL create. #MSDStrong 💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾— DWade (@DwyaneWade) March 7, 2018
Wade responded to a Twitter user later in the day, who criticized Douglas student and activist Emma Gonzalez's decision to re-tweet posts about Wade visiting her school, although she chose not to go to school Wednesday because of DeVos' visit.
"Simple observation: @Emma4Change retweets posts cheering @DwyaneWade visiting her school but opts to stay home for @BetsyDeVosED's visit. Sec. DeVos actually has power to make policy change. With all due respect to D Wade, he doesn't. Intentions have never been clearer," Nathan Hoffman posted.
"With all due respect. You don't," Wade responded.
Simple observation: @Emma4Change retweets posts cheering @DwyaneWade visiting her school but opts to stay home for @BetsyDeVosED’s visit.— Nathan Hoffman (@Milenatehoff) March 7, 2018
Sec. DeVos actually has power to make policy change. With all due respect to D Wade, he doesn’t.
Intentions have never been clearer. pic.twitter.com/5UDxFv2znm
As for DeVos, she called her planned visit inspiring and promised her commitment to solutions, but gave little insight into what she believes those solutions are.
"I'm just trying to get back to normal and happy to see my friends again," freshman Sebastian Benitez said.
Wednesday marked the first day in three weeks that students returned to the campus for a full day of classes.
"The mood (was), like, sad, emotional -- people are happy to see their friends back again, but it's still hard to just think of all those lives," Benitez said.
DeVos spent about an hour visiting with students and staff.
"I give a lot of credit to the students here who have found their voices, and encourage them to continue to speak out about finding those solutions and having adults pay attention," DeVos said.
The visit was closed to the media, but DeVos answered questions for five minutes at a news conference after her campus visit.
When she was asked to specify what kind of measures she supports to make schools safer, she would not go into detail.
"I think it's appropriate to take a really robust inventory of what states are doing and what local communities are doing and elevate those things that are working well and encourage others to adopt them," DeVos said.
Devos did reiterate that she is open to teachers being armed, but is in favor of individual school districts making that decision.
"I don't think it's a great idea because there may always be that one teacher that doesn't follow the rules (and) something crazy might happen," Benitez said.
The secretary said she did not discuss arming teachers with students at the school on Wednesday.
She said she plans to visit again.