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May 25 2017
by Madalyn Deselem

Beauty From Ashes: How My Best Friend's Suicide Changed My School

By Madalyn Deselem - May 25 2017

March 19, 2017: A day that will live in the forefront of my mind forever.

I was in Nashville, Tennessee with my boyfriend and family for spring break when I got the call. One of my friends from back home called to inform me that one of my best friends, Nolan, had committed suicide the night before. No warning, no signs, just the end of a life full of potential and the beginning of a new normal for all those he left behind. I remember very little about the remainder of that day as it all went by in a blur of sadness, despair and helplessness. However, the one thing I do remember with extreme clarity is the drive home to Illinois for the funeral. I had this overwhelming desire to fight the grief I was experiencing with action. Nolan would not have wanted us to grieve indefinitely. With this spirit at heart, the All In For Nolan initiative was created. 

During my senior year of high school, I had the privilege of being the president of Key Club. Throughout the entire school year, we as a club had been raising funds to build a school in Zambia for orphaned children. Before Nolan's death, a fundraiser had begun in which students would donate spare change into a bucket with the name of a student president or teacher on it to win a chance to throw a pie in their face. Myself and the student council president both agreed that in light of the tragic circumstances, we could not continue raising funds for an outside cause when our own community was suffering. With this, I spoke to the high school principal as well as my Key Club adviser, requesting that we change the fundraiser to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Nolan's memory. The change was approved immediately. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that their work, "Raises awareness, funds scientific research and provides resources and aid to those affected by suicide."

Madalyn Deselem

We determined that the fundraiser would last for one week. We are a high school of only 250 students, so we requested that each student bring $1 so we could meet our goal of a $250 donation. I could never have imagined the incredible attitude of generosity that followed. 

In just one week, our small Midwest high school raised $1,000. In stark comparison, it took us six months to raise $4,000 for Zambia. One student donated $250 of her own money saying, "When I heard what you were trying to do, I couldn't help but give. It's such a good cause." Even more beautiful than the outpouring of donations throughout this week was the spirit of unity that swept through our high school. Everyone wanted to honor one of our own; together, we rose above the grief and used it to help others with the same afflictions as Nolan. 

When the fundraiser ended, we held a "pie-ing" event during lunch. We invited Nolan's family to attend and pull names from our box of donors to see who would get to pie someone. Even our principal got a pie to the face, which was everyone's favorite moment of the afternoon. 

Natalie Deselem

While this fundraiser was full of shenanigans and a lot of whipped cream, the heart of it testifies to the nature of grief. Tragedy has an amazing ability to bring people together. It can also be the spark for change needed to better the current state of something. We couldn't save Nolan. He is no longer here, and I miss him more every day. However, the donation we made to the AFSP will help other families and communities not to suffer the same tragedy we did. 

We, as a school, learned to look out for one another more intentionally. We are more willing to reach out to those we do not know very well. We are able to admit our own suffering more easily. Teachers speak to students about subjects other than school and show a genuine interest in how we are doing as individuals. There is even a group that now meets on Thursdays to discuss the struggles of high school as well as to support each other.

Nolan's death also reminds us that mental health awareness is crucial. Take the time to look out for one another. Do not be afraid to offer or seek help for yourself or someone you know. The life you save is precious and important; do not take your role as an advocate for granted. Suicide is a permanent and unnecessary solution to life's temporary problems. Speak up, reach out and save lives.

For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, please visit their website

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

National Suicide Prevention Online Chat 

Lead Image Credit: Madalyn Deselem

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Madalyn Deselem - Purdue University

Madalyn is a freshman at Purdue University studying Biology with Pre-Medical advising with the hopes of becoming a dermatologist. She enjoys her jobs as a barista and a freelance tutor, hammocking in obscure locations, growing succulent plants, singing her heart out on stage, and working out at the gym. She is passionate about philanthropy and making a difference in the realm of mental illness awareness. You can find her on Twitter using the handle @maddie_deselem and on Instagram as @maddie.deselem

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