13 Reasons Why is the Netflix original series that has taken the world by storm. Based on the popular young adult novel of the same title by Jay Asher, the show has stirred up quite the controversy among viewers.
In the series, we meet a girl named Hannah Baker, who dies by suicide and leaves behind “13 Reasons Why” she felt the need to die.
But some students at Oxford High School in Michigan are giving their peers 13 reasons to live. The project is called “13 Reasons Why Not.”
Starting on Monday, May 1, a recording of a different student has been played on the announcements each day. It will continue for 13 days.
In the recording, each teen will reveal to the entire student body a problem that they’re facing. Then at the end of their recording, rather than blaming someone in their battle, each student will thank a classmate who has helped them.
After losing a freshman, Megan Abbott, to suicide four years ago, Oxford High School’s Dean of Students, Pam Fine, came up with the idea for the project.
“I watched the series. I thought it accurately depicted the problems that teenagers in high school are facing now,” Pam explains. “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 only students who knew about the Dean’s project were the 13 teens featured in it. So on Monday morning when the announcements came over the intercom, students were surprised to hear the voice of their peer, 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,” Riley said in her recording.
Unlike the show, Riley didn’t reveal the person she was talking about at the end of her message. Instead, she thanked a classmate who had made her feel the opposite of the lies she’d been fed.
“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 cannot repay. You are one of my 13 reasons why not.”
The recording was powerful. Students welcomed the message with support and praise.
“Riley Juntti is braver than anyone for doing what she did,” one classmate tweeted.
Riley said she knew that some may not like what she had to say, but their opinions didn’t matter to her because she knew her story could help other girls in her school who have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
“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 said. “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.”
On Tuesday morning, captain of the basketball team, Jordan Jadan, was the featured “13 Reasons Why Not” teen. Jordan shared with his peers that this year has been rough on him. After his mom moved to Florida for her job, Jordan moved in with his grandmother. Throughout the already chaotic moving process, amidst the busy schedule of a high school student and athlete, Jordan said a family member who he used to be close with has relentlessly bombarded him with explicit and degrading text messages.
“I’ve had no one to talk to, and it’s been hard,” he said. “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.”
Pam says that students have been moved by the project, with an overwhelming number of teens writing their stories and submitting them in hopes of being one of the 13 featured on the morning announcements.
Pam wrote in a Facebook post on May 2:
“This has been one of the hardest, but most rewarding weeks for me professionally. A small group of students took a big risk. They decided to start a raw and powerful dialogue about suicide. By putting themselves in front of 1,800 classmates and saying…look, I have a story, too. I have pain. I have been hurt, but there are not “13 reasons why” to give up. There are not a million reasons why. Suicide is not the answer. I will tell you a reason why NOT. I will not name a person who hurt me, but I will thank someone who helped me. Our lives and our journeys are connected. With support of admin, teachers and 13 very brave students…it worked. Our kids are talking. Our parents are talking. We do not believe in a reason why. We believe in the why NOT. To our students who have taken a risk, I cannot begin to describe how much I admire your courage.”
The project is set to go through May 17, and the remainder of the recordings will be selected from the submissions they’ve received.
“It was a risk, and it’s paid off… I’m incredibly thankful for the response,” Pam said.
The Netflix series that had a hand in inspiring Pam’s project has received both praise and backlash for the raw and revealing content of the show. Regardless of anyone’s individual opinion of the show, it’s been successful in one thing: getting the conversation started. As a result, beautiful things like “13 Reasons Why Not” have come to be.
Pam shared a photo on Facebook of some of the teens who have bravely shared their story:
“Being the first voice is difficult. Being the honest voice is harder. Being first AND honest in front of 1,800 teenagers armed with Twitter and Instagram is courageous. Their stories are driven by a passion to prevent teen suicide. These are my heroes.”
We’re excited that teens are being given the safe space and opportunity to be honest about their struggles, rather than hiding them. We cannot afford to lose more Hannah Bakers and Megan Abbotts. Oxford High School is changing the game in the way students and staff care for one another.