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Students comfort their grieving high school with locker notes for every kid

The students of Mason High School, located about 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, were faced with devastating news near the end of August. One of their classmates, Kwadwo Boateng, 15, had committed suicide. Students and faculty were stunned as they mourned the sophomore who was described by classmate Erica English as, “always happy and smiling. He was really funny and always cracking jokes. Everyone loved him.“

“No one ever expected this to happen,” English recalls. “It was shocking to everyone in the whole school. At first, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Everyone was sad and you could tell when people walked down the halls that it hit them really hard.”

Friends Anna Aronson, Michelle Crispin, Erica English, Nick Krueger and Ellie Uematsu, all 15, are members of Boateng’s sophomore class. A day after the news, Aronson found an idea on Pinterest for a way to bring comfort to her bereaved school, and shared it with the group and another friend, Jessica Morse.

Aronson suggested they write words of encouragement on brightly colored sticky notes, and affix the notes to every locker in their school. It would be an enormous undertaking. Mason High School is the largest high school in Ohio with almost 3,600 students. All six loved the idea and Aronson emailed the school’s principal, Dave Hyatt, who granted them permission to undertake the project.

Courtesy of Lori Aronson
When they lost a classmate to suicide, a group of students at Mason High School in Ohio reached out to the student body by attaching encouraging notes to every locker in the building. From left to right, Anna Aronson, Jessica Morse, Erica English, Ellie Uematsu, and Michelle Crispin are shown.

“We wanted the messages to be personal so we wrote, ‘You are’ and then we came up with a bunch of words that we thought would be good, things that we wanted everyone to know were true,” Aronson explains.

“We wanted things that would hit people hard and make them realize that they matter and are important,” English recalls.

Even before the friends got the okay, the group split the cost of 4,000 notes and, on Sunday evening, wrote out the first thousand messages. On Monday during study hall, Aronson secured permission to keep the school open that evening for as long as it took to complete their task.

Courtesy of Anna Aronson
The students wanted their notes to feel meaningful and special to each recipient.

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Uematsu says “We just wanted to get the message across that people belong. Because it is such a big school and it's hard to feel included sometimes. We just wanted to make everyone feel together and that they are not alone.”

Working around after-school commitments, the six friends gathered from the time class was dismissed at 2:15 until they took a Snapchat of themselves walking out of the school doors at 9:59 pm, writing and posting their messages of support and encouragement. They gathered in a classroom, turned on music, ate pizza and wrote and posted for eight straight hours. They describe the night as joyous and a bonding experience that helped them cope with the loss of their classmate.

“When it started to get late, we got a little worried about getting it all done. But we wanted to commit to the project and stay as long as needed to make sure everyone got what they deserved," Crispin says. “One of the things that inspired us to do this was that Kwadwo was such a positive person. He always wanted to spread so much joy and make people happy and we really looked up to him for that. We just wanted to do what he would have done for the world.”

Courtesy of Lori Aronson
The students worked together for eight hours to make sure every student received a note.

The six students knew their teachers were also grieving and left special messages on the hundreds of teachers’ doors. Morse explains, “We wrote things like ‘We appreciate you’, ‘We look up to you’, ‘We love you’ and other messages that spoke for all the Mason High School students.”

The following morning, the group was overwhelmed with the tremendous reaction they received from classmates and teachers.

“When I walked in everyone was smiling and reading their Post-it notes and comparing them with other people,” Aronson says. “You would see people walking around the school with their note taped to their shirt.” She feels their act of kindness was a big help because, “It was the day of the funeral and everyone, particularly my grade, was still shocked about it.”

Days later, many notes remain on the front of lockers or affixed to the inside doors. “I think there is a lingering impact,” Krueger says. “Some people really took this to heart and I know that all of the things we wrote on the notes are true. They are loved and they are not alone.”

“There was a kid in my chemistry class and I noticed he had the Post-it note that said ‘You are Magnificent’ on his shirt. Seeing that left a big impact on me. I think I made his day and that is all we wanted to do,” Uematsu says.

The faculty, too, expressed their appreciation. The six students were inundated with emails of thanks from their own teachers and teachers they didn’t even know. Fellow students flooded their phones with texts of gratitude. Everywhere they walked in the hallways of their school, classmates thanked them. Hyatt emailed his students, Krueger recalls, and expressed how appreciative he was that they had undertaken such a big effort on their own and brought so much comfort to their fellow students.

Courtesy of Lori Aronson
The students say the reaction to the notes was overwhelming. From left to right, Ellie Uematsu, Anna Aronson, Erica English, Michelle Crispin, and Nick Krueger are shown.

“The reaction and all the positivity that it spread around the school made us the happiest,” Crispin says. “And the fact that we could bring so much joy to the school with just a 3-by-3 Post-it note with three words on it. I feel like this not only made kids happy but it will inspire them to do great things for people they don’t even know and continue to spread joy.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Kwadwo Boateng’s mother, a widow, cover his funeral and other expenses.

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