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Professor John Moore, Ph.D., Abigale Smith and Director of Bands Jeremy Duby at a 2019 AFSP event.

As senior Abigale Smith, a business administration major with a management concentration from Sunfield, prepares to graduate, she reflects on the mark she’s made at Olivet College. Abigale has been deeply involved with the Marching Comets, serving as drum major and playing the trumpet. She is also a fellow of the President’s Leadership Institute and a graduate of the Women’s Leadership Institute.

And on top of her campus involvement, Abigale helped coordinate the first-ever Olivet College Out of the Darkness Campus Walk for suicide prevention in 2018, a program of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The third annual walk was recently held as a virtual event on March 28, and Abigale has served as the chairperson for each of the walks. The walk aims to erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide by offering a safe and open forum for discussion, while also having information and resources available. In addition, the walk raises funds for AFSP research and enhanced mental health support services on OC’s campus.

The AFSP has become a national leader in the fight against suicide by funding research, creating educational programs, advocating for public policy and supporting survivors of suicide loss. The organization collaborates with high schools and colleges across the nation to host campus walks, bringing together a community focused on suicide prevention thousands-strong. The campus walks target a key age group of individuals, as suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for those between the ages of 15 and 34. The AFSP dedicates 80 cents of every dollar raised to funding research and educational programs.

Read more about Abigale’s experience and the legacy she’s leaving behind:

Photos of participants joining the virtual Out of the Darkness Walk.

I don’t think any of us imagined three years ago when we came up with the idea to host the walk that it would grow to be such a large event on campus — actually the largest student-led walk and fundraiser on Olivet’s campus. The walk has become a joint effort of the Marching Comets, the psychology program and Gamma Iota Sigma and all of the incredible faculty members of these programs. In the first year alone, we nearly doubled our fundraising goal of $5,000. Last year, we exceed our goal of $10,000, and this year, despite the unfortunate circumstances, we have once again raised over $10,000. In total, we’ve raised over $30,000 in three short years, and I think it goes to show how important this cause is and how dedicated our students and community are to making a difference and bringing these topics “Out of the Darkness.”

Every year there have been hurdles with the walk, and this year we definitely faced the largest hurdle by far. Our most persistent hurdle has always been the weather (rain, sleet, snow, wind etc.), but this year we had to adapt, innovate and overcome once again as we were thrown into uncharted territory. Luckily, the AFSP Michigan Chapter and Michigan area director, Anne Perry, supported us the whole way as we navigated moving the walk virtually knowing everyone’s safety was the top priority. Despite the circumstances, we were still able to host a successful virtual event that many people participated in, and we’ve raised over $10,000 to date, which is more than I could ever ask for in these circumstances.

I think being able to adapt and persevere with this event through these difficult times shows not only the importance of this cause, but represents the very message we’re trying to get across. Hope can walk anywhere at any time, not just when things are going well. It’s even more important when times are hard to push through and hold onto hope. I hope by continuing with this event virtually people were able to connect to find and give support, especially during these uncertain and trying times. Despite social distancing, I want people to know they’re not alone, and we’re going to keep supporting them and their mental health no matter where we might be located.

I think what made the virtual event fun and unique is the fact that we encouraged everyone to share their messages of hope and pictures of them walking and supporting the cause on social media. Seeing people walking from multiple different cities and states — people who aren’t even a part of the Olivet College community ­– was truly inspiring. Hosting the walk virtually allowed anyone to participate and created a larger reach across the state and country to spread our message of hope.

Abigale with her goddaughter, Gabby, at the 2019 Out of the Darkness Walk.

As walk chairperson, I want to share a final thank you. I want to thank the Olivet College administration, faculty and staff for supporting this cause. I want to thank the students for always showing up to the event and for their support despite the obstacles we were thrown every year. I also want to thank Jeremy Duby, director of bands, and John Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, for advising this event and helping lead the charge. There’s no way this walk would’ve been possible without them and all of their hard work. We’ve been able to make a positive difference on campus and in surrounding communities. I’m so thankful I’m a part of the Comet family.

We will get through this together, and now, more than ever before, it’s extremely important for all of us to take time for ourselves and take care of our mental health. Remember, even though we’re social distancing, we’re not alone and help is only a call, text or FaceTime away. Hold onto hope because when this is over we’ll be stronger and better than before.

After graduation, Abigale plans to join the Peace Corps to serve as an economic development facilitator in Fiji. She hopes to shape her career in social enterprise.

Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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