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A year ago today, probably about this time, I was sitting in the theater listening to
the junior speeches. It wasnt an abnormal school day, really, I went to class, probably
took a test, and waited for 7th period to come. 7th free was always the highlight of my
day because I got to share it with my best friend, Claire. See, neither of us had ever felt
welcome in the Academy community, so instead of going to lunch or the hallway, we
would meet up in the lab. It was the one place we felt comfortable, really. We would
scream about schoolwork, we would blast our favorite music, if David Brown was there,
we would yell at David Brown, it was just generally a really nice reprieve from the
Columbus Academy. That days free was no different. We laughed and messed with the
labs resident boys until it was time to go to class. I remember going to math, and Claire
to history but what I cant remember is the dumb parting words we mustve exchanged,
but God, I wish I could. Because that would be the last time I would ever see her alive.
And somehow today, one year later, Im standing here, intact, breathing, maybe
even a little hopeful about the future, even though on the night I learned Claire was
gone, and God knows how many nights since, it felt like I never would be again. I also
felt the second my mother told me, Claire took her own life, nothing was ever going to
be the same for anyone. At least in that respect, I was right. Ive changed to the point
that I doubt Caroline, age 17 would even be a little recognizable to Caroline, age 16.
Some days, most days, really, it feels like Ive aged ten years in the span of only one. I
know a lot of my good friends, who were also Claires good friends, feel the same way. To
this day there is still a lingering tension in the air, an absence more commanding than

any presence, a silence louder than any words. Nearly everyone and everything has
changed somehow in the wake of Claires suicide, not least of all this speech.
Last April, under the impression that I would be giving a junior speech while still
a junior, I was determined to talk about Claire. It had only been around six weeks since
she died, and spending my nights lying facedown on my bed with headphones at
maximum volume was still a very regular part of my routine, but I still tried my
damnedest to reach into my soul and find the words to the eulogy I was physically
unable to give at Claires wake. But while its miles easier to write with tears in your eyes
than to speak, I still was unable to convey, or even understand, really, the feelings and
nuances surrounding Claires death and, more importantly, her life. I wrote about
finding out she had killed herself, the immediate aftermath at school, and attending her
memorial services--so numb all I could do was recount a list of what everyone in the
room already knew had happened. I talked about friends and the importance of
relationships, but friends will come and they will go, especially in high school;
sometimes in an explosion, revealing themselves to be something you thought they
werent, and then sometimes over time, drifting into the background until their only
presence in your life is a series of archived texts.
Theres a couple things that I wrote about, however, that ring just as true now as
they did in April. First, the pain hasnt changed. At the time, people would tell me,
Time heals all wounds. It doesnt. It just forces you to get used to them, to stop
fighting their presence but instead accept it. I remember on March 7th, paradoxically, it
felt as if the last time I had seen Claires face was both a century and a minute ago.

Thats even more true today. And something still feels like any moment now Im going to
get a phone call from Claires family, saying that it was all a mistake, some glitch in the
fabric of reality, and Claire is going to be coming home from the hospital in a couple of
days. I think part of me is always going to feel that way for the rest of my life.
And second, Columbus Academy hasnt changed, not really. Reading my speech
from last year, it isnt hard to tell that just beneath the carefully measured language lies
the purest anger I have ever known. At myself, at society, but mostly at Academy. I knew
the school was aware of prior incidents, and I knew that Claire had told me more than
once that she thought the school cared more about the health of its reputation than that
of its students, so when I was told by the administration I would have to hold off for a
while before I would be allowed to speak about Claire, my first thought was, cover-up.
Now I know that its a little more complicated than that, and that what my friends and I
perceived as deliberate whitewashing in the interest of donations was actually the
paralyzing fear of what is called suicide contagion. When one person ends their life,
particularly in communities like schools, the likelihood that more people will die by
suicide increases dramatically. The administration wasnt talking to students about
Claire, or posting about it publicly, or allowing me to give my junior speech, because
they feared drawing attention to her death would cross into glorifying or romanticizing
it, causing at-risk students to start to see suicide as an appealing option. Studies have
shown that when journalists reporting on suicides follow guidelines so as to not
dramaticize the act, suicide rates fall.

So it makes complete sense that Academy would try to avoid talking about
Claires suicide to students at first. But it seems like we havent talked about, or even
mentioned it, since. See, theres one huge exception to suicide contagion being caused
by plenty of coverage. When Kurt Cobain died, mental health professionals feared a
huge spike in suicides nationwide, particularly in the Seattle area. But the suicide rate in
Seattle actually lowered, coupled with a huge increase in calls to local suicide hotlines.
This is because media coverage did not portray Cobains suicide as tragically beautiful,
as an inevitable conclusion to his lifelong depression, but instead as the ugly, avoidable,
senseless tragedy it was. Hand-in-hand with news of his death came possible warning
signs for suicide, hotline numbers, urgings to never hesitate to seek help if you feel that
you may be suicidal, and frank discussions on mental illness and the unique stigma
against them.
And this is what I feel Academy has lacked. We were promised more honest
discussion on the physical science behind mental illness, the impact they can have on an
individual, promised intensive suicide prevention programs, promised a schoolwide
mental health awareness month. I dont know that weve even had a day. Hell, I cant
even remember the last time I heard the word suicide, especially in relation to those of
last year. Its always what happened. The tragedies. The events of last year. And I
havent heard the names Claire Glass or Claire Poll around here in a very long time,
either. All I ever hear in reference to them, if that, is they. Now, Im not going to
presume to talk about Claire Poll, because I know all too well the white-hot rage that
gripped my heart when I opened Twitter on the 7th, but the one thing I can say for

certain is that she wasnt just a they. And I know its scary and uncomfortable to talk
about. I know contagion is real. I know suicide feels way more immediate and
frightening than other manners of death. And I know talking about suicide, particularly
after two suicide deaths, is nearly impossible to discuss because how loaded every single
word can be.
But I am certain than in the long run, we will learn to heal much better if we
address suicide and mental illness head-on. Somewhere along the line, humanity
decided that disorders of the brain are far less valid than those of literally any other
organ, and ever since that day, people afflicted with mental illness have been told to
relax, cheer up, get over it, its only in your head. Which, I mean, is factually correct. But
can you imagine someone telling a cardiovascular patient, Come on, man, its only in
your heart? I havent heard anyone say something along those lines since last year,
which is huge, considering how often I used to hear it. But avoiding the word suicide,
making oblique references to a distant what happened, posting photos of Claire Glasss
friends on a suicide awareness walk without mentioning who they were walking for:
these things all contribute the othering of people with mental illness in a subtler fashion,
by unknowingly implying that mental illness is too upsetting to even speak of.
And many of the people being othered here are sitting in this auditorium right
now, in the Columbus Academy. Youd be reaching to deny the countless opportunities
at our feet because we go to a school as engaging and rewarding as Academy. But what I
didnt know when I chose to go here for high school was that for some of us, myself
included, that world-class education comes at a price beyond tuition. While making my

decision, I remember taking note of how many students at CSG had chosen to switch to
another school, compared to almost none from Academy. In recent times I have come to
realize that this is because the atmosphere of Academy has a way of making you feel like
if you have to leave, its because youre a failure for not being able to handle it. Its so
weird and insidious and no ones fault, no nefarious capital-I Institution to blame it on,
but it is undeniably there. This is why even as I was actively trying to stop my own heart,
I was still begging and pleading with my parents not to check me in at the pediatric
psych ward, because I would have to miss so much work and drop the honors classes
that wouldve looked good on my college transcript and what would people think of me?
Theres no point in pushing on because Im broken beyond repair, incapable of ever
feeling normal. Theres no point in seeking professional help because I would just be
taking up a bed that someone with real problems needs, not someone as stupid and
worthless as me.
If any of that sounded familiar: youre not worthless.
And you deserve so much more than what you let yourself have.
You feel trapped in equal parts inside your head and your expectations for
yourself. On the worse days, which are becoming more and more frequent, you feel like
theres only one way out. It might even be a little poetic, after all, everyone will
remember you. But what you dont realize is that though they will, whenever they think
of your face the bile will rise in the back of their throat and the world will drop out from
under them as they wonder in anguish why you left them and why they couldnt see how
badly you were drowning. No, suicide is never beautiful. It is the absolute ugliest thing

there is, for you and for everyone around you. But I dont feel any anger towards Claire
for what she did, because though the pain of her death is almost too much to bear, I
know she is the last person on Earth who would ever want to hurt any of us. See,
depression is tricky like that, because it makes you think that by killing yourself, you are
doing everyone else a favor by removing the burden that is your life. Nothing could be
further from the truth. It breaks people. None of your family and friends will ever be the
same. And struggling with mental illness is not a burden any more than struggling with
physical illness is. Everyone wants nothing more than to help you learn to breathe again.
And there is no shame whatsoever in having to take a break so they can teach you.
No, recoverys not going to be linear. Nothing outside of fiction is. But no one is
too far gone to benefit from help. And yes, its okay to stumble sometimes. Its okay to
bomb a test or get a bad grade in a course. Nothing is worth the end of the world. Now, I
may not believe in life after death, but I sure as hell believe in life after the Columbus
Academy. Its easy for me to say this as a second semester senior, but sooner than you
know it, all of this, everything of the life you knew within these walls, is going to end.
Because everything is so, so temporary. You are strong, stronger than you could ever
know, and I promise you there will come a day, when you look around at the beauty in
the world or at the great things you have accomplished or into the eyes of someone you
love, and you will think: Thank God I didnt kill myself before I got here.
And yet even as I stand here, saying that people are so much more than their
depression, and Claire Glass was so much more than just some event last year, I cant
help but see her as just that. Because while the song I most closely associate with Claires

death has the line, In my dreams, youre alive, in my dreams, Claires always dead. Im
surrounded by darkness and I catch a glimpse of her face, and I cry out to her, but all
she says is, Bye, and fades away. Im opening Facebook and my heart stops when I see
a red message alert next to a chat window that has long been very, very one-sided. Im
running with her through a sun-drenched field, and we are laughing just like old times
when the sun starts to go down, and I beg her not to go, to stay with me here, but she
just sadly smiles at me and we both know she is going somewhere where I cannot follow.
And since I dont believe in a life after death, I dont see these as Claire visiting from the
beyond, but me subconsciously reducing her to just her death, just something that
happened. And shes not. She wasnt just an event, a bad dream. She wasnt a tragedy;
she wasnt a song, or an album, a tattoo or a necklace. She wasnt a wake-up call, a
martyr, a suicide, she wasnt just a they, the reason
Romeo and Juliet
isnt taught
anymore, a what-happened; she was a person. Maybe--no, definitely, the best one I ever
have, and likely ever will, meet.
She was brilliant. I mean, you already knew that. Everyone knew it. The girl was
in MENSA at 14. She spent her school years in all-honors classes and a good chunk of
her summers at an academic talent identification program at Duke University. She also
took full college lab courses at Ohio State University during the school year. And she
would hate me for reducing her to her academic accomplishments, but Claire, if Im
wrong and youre still out there somewhere, know this: this isnt me making you into a
list of test scores. Like you said in your speech, you were so much more than a set of
statistics, you were a human with light in your eyes and fire in your heart. Instead, this

is me trying to convey that you were honestly going to change the world. No high school
student who asks questions that the PhD teacher cant answer goes on to a life of
mediocrity. And beyond that, she was the most compassionate person Ive ever known.
Claire had a schedule consisting of all-honors classes at Academy, lab courses at OSU,
homework from both, and rehearsal for whatever show she was doing, and she still
volunteered her time at more charities than I could even count. And not one second was
spent out of her own self-interest. I probably couldnt name even half of the acts of
community service she performed, because she would never brag or even really talk
about them. All she wanted was to make the world better. And I am certain that had she
not died, she would have. She was really the bravest, most incredible person I have ever
And nothing tastes quite as bitter on my tongue as that one word, was. Because
I love her. And I miss her. I miss the times we had, but more than that, I miss the times
we never will. I miss seeing her dance with her long-distance boyfriend Steven at prom
in the beautiful purple dress she had bought. I miss celebrating her 17th birthday with
her. I miss seeing two of our favorite bands, The Antlers and Neutral Milk Hotel,
together over the summer, and singing along to every word. I miss screaming in the
hallway the second we saw one another on the first day of senior year. I miss seeing the
look on her face, or more accurately 20 all-caps texts from her, when she got into Duke
University E.D. Most of all, I miss hugging her tightly after Commencement, both of us
laughing and screaming incoherently, with the sweet knowledge that we had finally

reached the other side, that we were going to be fine, that everything was going to be
Ive always loved looking at the stars, but at the same time, ever since I was old
enough to comprehend my own mortality, they have terrified me beyond words. During
the day, beneath blue skies and white clouds, its easy to pretend that Earth is somehow
a separate entity from the rest of the universe, and outer space is only a vague, distant
concept for science class. This isnt the case at night. Instead, to look up is not really to
look up at all, but instead to look out, into the tangible, yawning void above us, across
from us, beneath us. Last winter, in the depths of hopelessness, I would lay on my side
and stare wordlessly into the unknown, thinking, Whats the point? Whats the point
of anything at all, when we are just bags of carbon, desperately staving off the inherent
disorder of the universe for as long as we can? Were just a flash in the dark, gone in the
blink of an eye to an unending, uncaring universe. On the night after Claires funeral, I
found myself once again staring into space. But this time, to my surprise, I wasnt scared
at all. Instead, I found myself flooded with gratitude that even though Claire was gone
and was never coming back, I got to share a part of my life with her, however small.
What are the odds? One hundred billion galaxies, God knows how many more stars with
God knows how many planets apiece, and somehow, I came into being at the right place
and the right time to get to be friends with someone like Claire. And someday we will
die, as well as the Earth and everyone and everything that ever lived upon it, and there is
no reversing entropy, but the fact that we had a chance to live at all is so, so special. And
now, when I look up at the stars and think of the girl named Claire Glass who once

looked up at them too, I dont feel like theyre taunting me with my mortality, Claires
mortality, everyones mortality. Instead, I open my heart to what Camus called the
gentle indifference of the universe, and I know that the universe is going to catch me.