CHS students hold anti-bullying week in aftermath of tragedies
On Thursday, Netflix released the second season of 13 Reasons Why, a show centered on the suicide of a high school girl. The next day, ten were killed in another school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas in which, sources say, the gunman had planned his own suicide. All of this follows Canby's teen suicide tragedies earlier this year.
There is more hurt in the world than many of us can bear, but students at Canby High School, like students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, refuse to sit idly by and watch it all happen without putting forth an effort to stop it.
At the end of April, Canby High School leadership groups launched an anti-bullying campaign called "Talk About It." They invited former CHS Associated Student Body president and Pulse Nightclub shooting survivor Brandon Wolf to speak at the high school and at several community events.
In a letter to parents, Principal Greg Dinse said the campaign involved activities that, "encourage respect and community while encouraging students to actively address and report negative behaviors like bullying."
The Talk About It campaign and groups like the SAFE Club (Safety Awareness for Everyone) were inspired at least partly by events that took place in 2006 during Wolf's senior year at Canby High School.
"It didn't always feel very good to be a student at CHS my senior year of high school." -Brandon Wolf
At the beginning of the year, some students anonymously created a hit list on Myspace of 10 students, including Wolf. The list was made up of ASB officers, racial minorities and LGBTQ students. The list was followed by an attempt to hold a diversity week, which Wolf said went over like a lead balloon.
"Our graduating class sort of unearthed some deep-seated issues in the student population and I think in the broader community around inclusion and diversity," Wolf said. "There was a lot of conversation around race. There was a lot of conversation around sexual orientation and gender identity. And it didn't always feel very good to be a student at CHS my senior year of high school.
"But from what I understand, that year really was a catalyst for some tough conversations as a community, and it gave rise to things like the SAFE Club, weeks like Talk About It, and those things really came from those tough moments in 2006," he said.
Following those "tough moments," Wolf went on to experience possibly even tougher moments. He moved to Florida when he was contracted as a dancer at Disney World. There, he met someone who he described as "very different" from himself, but who quickly became his best friend. It was Dru.
"He was really comfortable with himself, and that was something that I hadn't quite learned to be at that point in my life," Wolf said. "He was comfortable that he was biracial—he was Japanese and Finnish—and he was really proud of both. He was really passionate about his college education. He had a master's degree in clinical psychology. He was really passionate about students and youth, and I think what was different about Dru's leadership is it was coupled with a belief that we're rooted in public service."
Dru taught Wolf that in order to lead and to love others, he had to first believe in and love himself.
On June 12, 2016, Wolf and Dru made their way to Pulse Nightclub, where Dru decided to call Wolf out on some tension in his life.
"He pulled me out on the patio and he said, 'Why do you always let small things get in the way? Why, when you are in a moment where love could be the most important thing in the room, why do you let everything else get in the way of that? Why don't you just focus on treating each other well and loving the people that you're surrounded by? Live in this moment.'
"And then," Wolf said, "he had these really long, goofy arms, and he pulled me and our friends into a circle and he draped his arms around our shoulders, and he said, 'You know what we never say enough as people is that we love each other.' And he made us go around in a circle and say that we loved each other that day. And I tell you that because I think it's fitting that that was actually the last conversation that I had with Dru, because it wasn't but 20 minutes later that I was in the bathroom when a gunman entered the front door of Pulse Nightclub and killed 49 people."
Though Dru's physical life ended that night, he lives on in Wolf and in the non-profit organization that Wolf began with friends: The Dru Project, which supports gay-straight alliances and SAFE school programs.
When Wolf was invited to return to Canby for the first time in nearly 10 years for an anti-bullying week, he said he was immediately taken back to diversity week '06.
"I first thought, that's not possible," Wolf said. "That can't be happening in my home town. I remember what it was like when I tried to talk about inclusion and diversity, and it didn't feel very good."
But Wolf agreed to come, and he was pleasantly surprised by how his home town has changed.
"The students at CHS today are listening." -Brandon Wolf
"I've had the distinct pleasure of spending a lot of time with students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida," Wolf said, "and they remind me a lot of what I saw at Canby High School this week."
Wolf later added, "There's a huge difference. The students at CHS today are listening. And when I was a senior in high school, they were not listening. They didn't want to hear about people that were different from them. They didn't want to see people that were different from them. That was scary, change was scary. And what I got a sense for when I was at the assembly the other day is that these students are not afraid of change. These students are not afraid to explore identities that they haven't experienced before. They're not afraid to reach out to classmates that they may not know or understand and get to know them a little better. And that's just a different culture than I'm accustomed to from Canby High School, and I think it's fantastic.
"I think it's probably indicative of the broader community and the amount of work that's gone in over the last 10 years to create a really welcoming, safe community in Canby where anybody, regardless of where they come from or who they are, can feel like they belong," Wolf said.
Canby High School staff, district administrators and community members and groups have come behind the Canby High students to support their efforts to address bullying, prejudice and other behaviors that may lead to suicide or violence.
"We want to make you aware that the content of this show may not be appropriate for your students, and it maybe even more difficult to watch in light of the events this winter." -Superintendent Trip Goodall
In anticipation of the release of 13 Reasons Why season two, Superintendent Trip Goodall sent a letter to the community, informing parents of the risks associated with students watching the show and providing opportunities for support for those who may be triggered and begin to experience a grieving process again because of Canby High's suicides in January and February.
"We are concerned for each of our student's social, emotional and mental well-being," Goodall said in the letter. "We want to make you aware that the content of this show may not be appropriate for your student, and it may be even more difficult to watch in light of the events this winter."
He continued, "Our counselors and administrators have worked together to provide support for anyone having difficulty. Through mental health partnerships and the "Talk About It" awareness campaign, students are being connected with resources and encouraged to say something if they see something."
For a complete list of resources and contacts, view Goodall's letter here.