Nearly 200 people traveled a collective total of 337 miles in the rain and raised $11,692.32 on April 30 in the first-ever Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention to take place on the Cornell University campus.
Cornell Swimming & Diving Team
Throngs with ponchos, umbrellas, yellow galoshes, or just getting soaked in an April shower, including Cornell fraternity brothers, the Swimming & Diving, Tennis, and Volleyball teams, among others in the Cornell community, trekked the two-mile route from Corson-Mudd Hall, to the College of Veterinary Medicine, Feeney Way, and back again.
“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health,” said chief organizer Cheyanne Scholl during an opening ceremony inside the Corson-Mudd atrium.
“You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. You are showing others that the issue of suicide cannot and will not be kept in the darkness. And thanks to you, we remain hopeful.”
More than 500 Out of the Darkness walks are held across the country each year by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to raise awareness, collect research funds, and send a message that “suicide is preventable and no one is alone.” In 2022, Overnight, Community, and Campus walks raised more than $21 million.
Among the participants in the Cornell walk were 14 campus fundraising teams, with Team Malibu raising the most funds, $1,450. Other top teams included SCL-TCOB, Cornell Vet, Alpha Gamma Rho, and The Statler Hotel. Skye Krehbiel was the top individual fundraiser with $1,210, and Michelle Moyal was second with $698.02.
Local businesses also supported the walk with donations, including Wegmans Panera Bread, Mirabito, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, Big Red Barbershop, and Cornell University.
Stacy Ayres and Crystal Howser of AFSP, and Co-Chair Cheyanne Scholl
In her remarks, Scholl explained that she has been involved with AFSP since 2017, when she participated in a walk at Iowa State University to honor a very close high school friend, Jack, a student there who had recently died by suicide. She was a first-year student at the time, and she recalled how “my life flipped on me” as she grieved Jack’s death.
“As a new college student experiencing such a tremendous loss, I was very lost and did not know where to turn,” she said. “The support and help I received from everyone around me was incredibly helpful. I learned that it is okay to reach out when you need help, you are not alone.”
When Scholl moved to Ithaca from Iowa last summer to start a new job at Cornell, she spent part of the 16-hour car ride researching the local AFSP chapter determined to explore holding a Cornell walk. Backed by AFSP Greater Central New York, Scholl and a team of Cornell students and staff members including Scholl’s co-chair Daniel Richter spent months organizing the event on the sprawling campus.
Alpha Gamma Rho
Also speaking at the event was Kathleen Stathopoulos, whose son Yiannis ’24, a third-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, died by suicide last summer. He was president of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, and worked at an animal hospital. Stathopoulos shared that Yiannis was a mental health advocate who sought to reduce the high suicide rate among vet school students.
Stathopoulos said her son was known for his self-assurance. The 24-year-old was an avid body builder who loved to ski, golf, fly his drone, ride his motorcycle, and attend Mets games. “Yianni, above everything, loved his family,” she said. In the weeks before he died, he had rescued two kittens and a rabbit and nurtured them back to health. Yiannis’s death, she said, seemed to come out of the blue.
“Yianni was active, he was engaged, he was involved,” Stathopoulos recalled. “He was a person who was alive. He smiled an infectious smile. I had no idea that Yianni had any kind of suicidal thoughts. His family had no idea, the closest of his friends, his teachers and administrators, they had no idea. Everybody was shocked.”
She added: “When they came to Yianni’s memorial in Brooklyn, people said, ‘Yianni? Not Yianni. Yianni had it all. He was living the dream. How did this happen?’ But it did happen.”
Stathopoulos said that while Yiannis projected strength, he appears to have been very good at hiding behind that image. “How could a person who’s looked at like a Greek god, so confident, now say to people, ‘I’m having a problem. I feel like I might do something to myself.’ That would be shattering the image. Yianni had that image and protected it. If Yianni could have just realized it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness is just like any other illness. It’s not a character flaw.”
Yiannis’s mother urged the students participating in the walk to seek mental health support if they are struggling. “If there’s anyone out there thinking that something’s wrong, if that bully in the brain is telling you you’re not good, fight it, tell somebody, tell a professional, tell a friend, tell a loved one. Talk to somebody. It will help.”
Another speaker was Scott MacLeod, whose daughter Sophie ’14, a senior in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, died by suicide in 2016 at age 23 while on a health leave of absence from Cornell. MacLeod described how his family and friends established The Sophie Fund in Ithaca to advocate for improved mental health support for young people, including students at Cornell and other local campuses.
Why We Walk
Some of the comments written on the Cornell walk’s “Why We Walk” banner:
“All our loved ones we have lost, and to those who keep fighting each day. You matter and are not alone. My Dad, my hero.”
“For Sam, my best friend.”
“For the Czymmek family and in the loving memory of Will. We are still here for you.”
“For Chris. You are loved!”
“For Greg and his family, and everyone who struggles.”
“For all the student athletes and those struggling.”
“For my mom’s struggle.”
“For my brother Kyle, and all those who suffer.”
“For my trans siblings, I love you.”
“For Dong Hao.”
“Never stop fighting!”
Laurie Conlon, Jessica Withers, and Co-Chair Daniel Richter
Cornell Women’s Volleyball Team
Carolina Baquerizo, Alayzha Turner-Rodgers, and Hannah Van Bergen of the College of Veterinary Medicine
Hope Walks Here
Have a Real Conversation
Hope Walks Here
Cornell walkers raised $11,692.32 for AFSP educational programming and research
If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.