During a 13-day period that began Monday, the morning announcements at Oxford High School have included recordings of students revealing problems they are experiencing, and thanking classmates who have helped them. The project is a takeoff on the Netflix show "13 Reasons Why," where the main character gives 13 reasons why she wants to die. But, for students at Oxford High School, they are giving 13 reasons to live.
This project was conceived by Oxford High dean Pam Fine in memory of Megan Abbott, a freshman who committed suicide four years ago.
“I watched the series. I thought it accurately depicted the problems that teenagers in high school are facing now,” Fine told the Oakland Press. “But it was incredibly troubling to me that suicide was portrayed as being, almost, inevitable, like she had no other option.
“The idea was to come up with 13 reasons why not, because that was not portrayed in the show. … Even though it can get very dark, there is always hope. Our message is that there are no 13 reasons why. Suicide is not an option.”
The project was kept secret, Fine said. So, while students were expecting to hear the normal Monday morning announcements, they were surprised to hear the voice of senior Riley Juntti.
“Worthless. Self-centered. No morals. Easy. Grimy. Cake face. You would be better off dead. That’s just the start of what you would label me as every day for two years,” Juntti said in her recording.
At the end of the recording, instead of naming the person she was talking about, she thanked a classmate. “This tape is for you Elise Godfrey. You saw me when no one else did and continued to listen, share and appreciate the small things with me. Thank you for your kindness I can not repay. You are one of my 13 reasons why not.”
Afterward, Juntti’s telephone and social media accounts were swamped with support from her classmates – some of whom she has never met. One tweet read, “Riley Juntti is braver than anyone for doing what she did,” the Oakland Press reported.
Juntti said she was not afraid of any backlash her announcement might cause.
“Standing up for what is right has always been more important to me than my peers’ approval, and this project wasn’t an exception,” she told the Oakland Press. “Oxford has come together to create an environment this past week where talking about mental illness is socially acceptable. ... I’ve helped people come forward with their struggles and that’s more than what I can ask for from this project.”
Tuesday morning’s announcement was by Jordan Jadan, the captain of the Oxford Wildcats’ basketball team. Unknown to his classmates, Jadan has had a rough year, the Oakland Press reported. He moved in with his grandmother after his mother moved to Florida for a job. He said he has been receiving several explicit and degrading text messages from a previously close family member.
“I’ve had no one to talk to, and it’s been hard,” Jadan told the Oakland Press. “I know I could have given up a long time ago. … My reasons to live are my two little sisters and my mom.
“There’s always someone who cares about you. You’re never alone. There’s always something to live for.”
The remainder of the recordings, which will air daily until May 17, will be selected from submitted stories, Fine said.