A Palo Alto High School graduate has launched a project to collect video, audio and written testimonies from other alumni to share a message with current students: Life gets better.
Jessica Feinberg, now in her first year at Smith College in Massachusetts, said she felt helpless being far away from her hometown this year and the recent student deaths by suicide. She was hearing the same from fellow Palo Alto graduates, now scattered across the country, and that they all wanted to do something to help.
So earlier this month, she posted her idea for an alumni testimonial project on Facebook, inviting anyone interested in sharing their experiences with mental health "whether it's their own story or how they were affected by friends, and testify that your life is truly not defined by your academic or social success in Palo Alto schools and that things actually do improve," she wrote to email her.
Within five days, she had 70 alumni on board.
"We think alumni have really great things to say because it can be hard to reflect on anything (when) you're going through it," Feinberg said. "We're hoping that alumni can provide a perspective that is not accessible to current students yet testimony that it does get better. Life gets better. While we all still deal with mental health issues, we know how to deal with them in a healthy and constructive way."
Feinberg worked extensively on mental health issues and suicide prevention during her time at Paly, serving as a member of youth well-being coalition Project Safety Net and restarting the school's Queer Straight Alliance, among other efforts. She's returning to Palo Alto this summer for an internship with the school district focused on suicide prevention and community-building research.
She also worked on a project called "My Story," which focused on creating videos of current high school students telling their stories with the goal of reducing stigma around mental health, empowering teens and building community. Feinberg sees "Life Gets Better" as an extension of that and with the same purpose.
Some of the students, community members and district staff who were part of that project are now helping to coordinate the "Life Gets Better" initiative, including faith community member Penny Barrett, district nurse Linda Lenoir and Becky Sanders, Midpeninsula Media Arts Center director of programming. Paly graduates Julia Tachibana and Taylor Chiu (both class of 2005) have also joined the project.
The group plans to collect and review submissions and then post them on a website that will be continually updated. Submissions can be anonymous if people would like, Feinberg said, but she's also collecting emails of any alumni willing to be contacted by current students who might want support or to talk.
"As Teddy Roosevelt once said, 'In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing,'" Feinberg's initial Facebook post reads. "And another Roosevelt (FDR) said, 'There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.' Let us stop standing still now."
Any Paly or Gunn High School graduates who are interested in participating can email firstname.lastname@example.org.