The streets of Andover buzzed with energy on Sunday morning as over 300 community members gathered for the school’s first Out of the Darkness Walk (OOTD). The purpose of the walk was to bring awareness to mental health issues and destigmatize mental illness.
Many participants fundraised for the walk, raising a total of nearly 35,000 dollars. According to Lisa Joel, Director of Enrollment Management and Organizer of the OOTD walk , half of the money will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the other half will be put back into Andover to support mental health programming on campus.
Participant Max Vale ’18 said, “I wanted to participate [in the walk] because mental health and suicide is something that our community, myself included, never really talk about. This fall, it came back to be something that we really need to talk about with the loss of our community member and one of my friends, Dan [Nakajima ’18].”
Joel said, “I hope for students the event was part of their journey of healing, certainly in light of Dan’s suicide. I hope for some, this provided some sense of comfort and something you can do. I hope it helped kids and adults realize that no one is alone. Everyone suffers. I think the message of this event is that there is hope, there are people, and there is love.”
The walk began at the Snyder Center. Before beginning the walk, Patrick Doheny ’18, a coordinator of OOTD, and Fred Pan ’18 spoke to the attendees. Following the introduction, Julia Pratt ’19 sang Kesha’s “Rainbow.”
Posie Millett ’20 said, “When I heard [Pratt] singing it, thinking about all the people who were standing there supporting her… I think it brought the entire room together. You could hear in her voice how moved she was by everyone being there. It was a very beautiful way to end the introduction and move on to the walk.”
After a reflective beginning to the event, the crowds moved outside. Walkers followed a route from the Snyder Center down Salem street and past the Big Red Acres Alpaca Farm before looping back to the Snyder Center.
Millett said, “When we were walking out of Snyder, everyone was pretty silent and introspective. But as the walk went on, people started to talk more. It was nice to see everyone with their friends and their teams just enjoying each other’s company, not being on their phones, and just taking in the day.”
Claire Brady ’20 said, “A lot of people were talking, but there were also some people who were walking quietly. It depended on the person. It was very relaxed, and it was beautiful to get outside, especially for that type of reflection.”
Vale said that the walk allowed for students and faculty alike to gather and share compassion and support for one another.
Vale said, “Here at Andover, people can get so busy that they forget to be compassionate. It’s an awful thing to say, but it happens. Here, at this walk, there were so many people there for each other. I was talking to one of my friends about Dan, and how everyone at the walk cared for each other, and how there was a really nice community of people.”
The event did not bring together solely Andover community members. Students from Worcester Academy and Brooks School were also in attendance, and students from Andover High School volunteered at the event.
Joel said, “I think it’s important because if Andover can provide the place and the organization, and some of the things that make it easy for people to show up, I think it’s our obligation to do everything we can to bring people together.”
Vale said, “We have a platform to be able to do this. Friends of mine who are still in public schools don’t have the options to get projects like these off the ground. We have so many resources available to us at Andover to start conversations about mental health and suicide that I feel like we are obligated to do things like this.”