It was the fall of 2013 and I was in my last semester as an undergraduate student at William & Mary when my friend and roommate withdrew from classes. He committed suicide at his home about a month later.
An underclassman friend of mine, Alex Foster, supported me during that rough time. I graduated soon after, but Alex was so moved by this tragic event that he worked with his fraternity, Alpha Tao Omega (ATO) to establish an Out of the Darkness Walk on campus. The first event was held in the spring of 2015, and since then, I’ve returned to William & Mary each year to participate in the walk, and raise funds and awareness for this cause in honor of my former roommate and friend.
Out of the Darkness Walks support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's (AFSP) lifesaving work. Through grassroots efforts, they’ve sparked a movement with more people coming out each year to walk against suicide. The Out of Darkness Walks have gained momentum with 275,00 participants walking in 425 nationwide events in 2018 alone. AFSP raises awareness, funds scientific research, and provides resources and aid to those affected by suicide.
Since our first Walk, I have primarily served as a team captain and fundraiser for ATO. When I returned to William & Mary as an MBA candidate, I stepped into an unofficial role as an advisor to the ATO team. I connected with the student organizer, Danny McNeil, and shared my thoughts with him on how the event could be improved as well as helped him work through some hurdles in the event planning process.
Instead, I focused my efforts on building a fundraising team with my fellow MBA classmates. I was personally blown away by the support from the MBA students. Not only did we have the largest team in attendance at the event, but we raised 50% more in donations than the second-place team. Our participants went all out to support this cause. It meant a lot to me personally, but I also saw how much the other students in the MBA program truly care about the issue of mental health and suicide. It was a blessing to understand why they care and hear their stories about how suicide has affected their lives. I want to personally recognize my classmate, John Maxwell, for all of the effort he put into fundraising and promoting this cause. I believe that there was more awareness campus-wide because of him.
This year’s Out of the Darkness Walk was held on Saturday, April 30th. We had over 250 registered participants and raised a total of $11,197. The MBA team was responsible for $3,207! President Rowe continued the tradition of delivering the Walk’s opening remarks. Her words about mental health were touching and inspiring to many of the students who came to the event.
I’m already looking to next year and asking myself how we can make it bigger and better. I’m planning to support ATO’s planning team again as well as work with the Student Assembly as the MBAA’s External VP to increase awareness. I want every student, and faculty and staff member at William & Mary to take notice of how mental health is affecting our community and take action to address these issues.
We’ve already affected change for the William & Mary community through the Out of the Darkness Walks. The university has invested in an excellent training program to help students identify At-Risk individuals and encourage them to seek support and resources for their mental health challenges. Part of the money we raised from the Out of the Darkness Walks was used by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in collaboration with William & Mary to make this free 30-minute training available to all students. I’m excited to use this platform to promote the At-Risk Training Link across campus so we can support our fellow students who feel alone and hopefully prevent suicide in our community in the future.