On Saturday morning I attended the funeral of a parent I had known when I was working at Pickering College. This remarkable woman had been fighting a battle with cancer and, sadly, succumbed last week. In speaking with the congregation, the minister reminded us of California’s sequoia trees. They are the tallest trees in the world and, as such, present as ominous and powerful. She pointed out that despite their height, these trees’ root systems are very shallow and thus they tend to grow in groves such that they support each other. When on their own, they risk falling. She reminded us- friends and colleagues of the grieving family – to ensure that we gathered around this family in the same way that sequoias do; allowing support and strength. This analogy was a powerful one and reminded me of this past Thursday night when St. Clement’s hosted a panel about understanding adolescent mental health.
The evening, sponsored by our Parents’ Association, organized by LINCWell and most importantly led by our students, highlighted the need to ensure mutual support in our community. St. Clement’s has been the pilot school for a new initiative and partnership with The Jack Project. A group of our senior students have created The Word’s Out (TWO), a committee whose mission is to “strive to foster a greater understanding of mental health by encouraging open discussion in a safe and accepting community.”
We were fortunate to have Eric Windeler, Dr. Doug Weir, Justin Scaini and alumna Elle Bulger as our panellists and the discussion was ably facilitated by our own Dr. Foster. The conversation was open, honest, thought-provoking, and most of all, courageous.
I was very thankful for the candour of our panelists. In my opinion, one of the most important messages came from our alumna Elle to our current students. Elle spoke openly about her struggles with anxiety and an eating disorder and explained to the audience how she had developed a toolbox of strategies over time. These strategies assisted her in managing her struggles with her mental health. At the end of the evening she spoke directly to our Clementines in the audience and, as I think back, her words reminded me of the ones I heard this morning. Elle reminded our girls that they had supports at St. Clement’s and that it was important to reach out and to be open and honest when things were not going well. Just like sequoias, our girls stand tall and are outstanding in all that they do, but they are also reticent to admit that occasionally their resilience and strength or ‘root systems’ can be too shallow. Elle reminded them that they can ask for support and not feel that they have to deal with things on their own.