Read Loryn’s Compelling Story Here!
Hands & Words: From the Mind & Heart of a Student
By: Loryn Studer
In kindergarten I learned a 14-word Pledge that would stay with me for the rest of my life:
“I Will Not Use My Hands Or My Words For Hurting Myself Or Others ®”
When I was in the 8th grade those very words would echo in my head and cause me to not self-harm. In high school, those words would help me come back to reality and see things will get better and that there is always hope. These words had stopped me from harming myself that would deeply hurt those who love me. I wanted to give people a platform to help others like me.
In my junior year of high school, I began to work with suicide prevention forming a club that would later be known as Saxon Strong. I wanted to get teenagers to start talking about mental health and suicide prevention. The backbone of this club would come from Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project® through donations of their purple Hands & Words bracelets, a Pledge banner to hang permanently in the school, and funds donated from other community resources. I would learn how to educate people and how to present the mission and message of the Hands & Words Project to several organizations and public officials.
What started as giving out Hands & Words purple bracelets grew to creating my own design for Saxon Strong purple t-shirts and selling them at lunch raising money for suicide prevention. A week was dedicated at South Salem High School to this cause. During this week every home athletics game our team wore the purple shirts to warm up in or purple in their hair to represent the cause. Our team would share purple pre-wrap with the visiting team to include them in raising awareness. At the football, volleyball, and soccer games a short speech was given to educate the crowd on why we were wearing purple and then guided everyone in the Hands & Words, Purple Hands Pledge®. On Friday of the awareness week, the school had a purple-out where students and teachers were encouraged to show their support for those who might be feeling alone or might have felt this way in the past. The purple shirt represented that together we are strong and are here for each other at this difficult time in life.
We were taught from the Hands & Words Project why the color purple was chosen when taking the 14 word Pledge. One reason is to remember and honor anyone who has been hurt or killed by suicide or murder. The color purple reminds us to never forget those who are no longer with us or those who may be afraid to ask for help frozen in fear. We are all valuable, irreplaceable human beings!
Sharing with my community the conversation being started at my high school became my biggest goal and a true passion. I was inspired by individuals who would come to the booth during lunch and buy a bracelet thanking me or sharing their story. The purple shirt would become a symbol of unity at South Salem High School.
During my senior year I would continue this tradition with the help of my classmate Katie Larson as she served as the Miss Marion-Polk County Outstanding Teen. Together we repeated the suicide prevention awareness week, this time we began a partnership with West Salem High School as well. Our schools would band together selling purple shirts and Hands & Words purple bracelets that would be sported at our football game against each other that year.
We volunteered as a club at the first annual Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk in downtown Salem and presented at the Salem-Keizer School Board and Superintendent’s board meeting and the Marion County Commissioner’s board meeting the work we had been doing. At both board meetings we accepted the 19th Annual Proclamation for Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Week that year. Our final event was a dance put on at South High after the football game once again raising awareness and bringing people together.
The reason I did what I did was to help bystanders and peers be more aware and involved and help save lives. It is not enough to just listen we must do something when someone is crying out for help or showing signs of hurting themselves, or potentially others. As a teenager, it is hard to be there for others especially for such hard topics. It is not our job to be a lifeline or a therapist. However, it is on us to get them connected to resources whether that be a school counselor, parent, or another trusted adult. We must educate people of all ages on what resources are available for people who are facing a variety of problems in order to better support people as a community.
Right now, it is too common for individuals to notice, but to take no action when someone is seen cutting themselves or dealing with mental health problems because we do not know how to help them. The person going through mental health issues, be that from a biological or a situational standpoint, often feels alone and disconnected from their peers. These topics are still too taboo in our society. If someone notices and listens to them but does not know the resources to help the individual, then sadness can turn to anger. People switch from feeling alone because they didn’t want to reach out…to feeling betrayed because they cried out and were ignored.
Education is the root of the solution. We must reach individuals who may not be diagnosed yet or are facing extremely difficult situations. We must show our unity as schools, communities, and as a human race. It could be through a purple shirt or a sticker on the window of a business or simply saying the Purple Hands Pledge and taking those 14 words to heart. Whatever it is we must continue the conversation and implement this simple program into schools from kindergarten all the way through high school and into adult life.
Saxon Strong did more than just raise awareness for suicide prevention, we strived to unite students at all times. We did so by bringing students together after several of our peers passed away. We wore our purple shirts and purple bracelets to show support for each other as we grieved. We carried roses for our fallen peers lost to suicide during graduation. We provided a safe space for individuals to talk about mental health, suicide, death, and much more. It was a club that showed that these hard conversations had a home at South Salem High School.
This was not something I was asked to do, this was something I wanted to do and it was only possible through the backing of Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project®. The message from their Purple Hands Pledge® was the centerpiece of this movement in the Salem- Keizer school district. From my work with Ann Kelly, Founder/Executive Director, I was awarded the “Service Over Self” honor from the Salem Rotary Chapter. I was additionally honored at South Salem High School with the Principal’s Award and the Kroc Award for my service to the school and community. I am one student with a voice and a passion and this is what the Purple Hands Pledge® did for me, can you imagine what it could do for every student in the district, county, state, region, country, or even the world? Continue the conversation with me and Hands & Words by spreading the Purple Hands Pledge® and stories just like mine.
South Salem High School Class of 2017