Many high school students have to give a presentation at some point, but it’s not usually in front of the surgeon general of the United States in Washington, D.C.
Audra Hopkins, a senior at Amsterdam High School, spent Monday at the launch of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention in Washington, D.C., as a student representative of Sources of Strength.
She spoke on how that group has affected her school, right after Surgeon General Regina Benjamin had the floor.
“It takes everyone in the community to prevent suicide,” said Sources of Strength founder Mark LoMurray. “That was her message.”
Audra was not available Wednesday to talk about the honor of the day. She’s already back in class, but her mother, Denise, recounted their trip to the Capitol.
“It was really a phenomenal experience for her,” she said, “It was like the sort of thing you see on C-SPAN. I never expected my daughter to speak at that sort of thing.”
LoMurray started Sources of Strength 20 years ago in North Dakota as a way to “help students through the ups and downs of life.” Since then, it’s spread to schools all over the country and into Canada.
A few years ago, guidance counselors brought it into Amsterdam High School in conjunction with a University of Rochester study on suicide prevention.
“The program attempts to train peer leaders to change the norms of high school,” said Amsterdam High guidance counselor Maura Dargush, who oversees the school’s program.
She said peer leaders are asked to connect with fellow students to encourage positive friendships, healthy activities and convince young people it’s OK to talk to adults, all of which can help decrease the risk of suicide in youth.
According to her mother, Audra was drawn to the program by a giving personality.
“She’s a very good friend,” Denise Hopkins said, “and she really listens to people.”
It was that ability to listen that led to her speech in Washington.
Audra was the only student representative of the many peer leaders in Amsterdam and thousands of others across the country to speak at the launch.
“It’s quite an honor,” Denise Hopkins said, “She even got to meet Surgeon General Benjamin.”
University of Rochester representatives stopped by Amsterdam High School recently and were impressed by Audra’s energy.
“We try to get kids from all the different cliques,” Dargush said, adding that kids are more likely to confide in people within their own clique.
“She has an ability to bridge groups.” LoMurray said, “and Amsterdam is a very diverse group.”
LoMurray met Audra and her mother at the National Press Club in Washington for the launch, and though she had only a short time to speak, he said Audra was effective.
Audra plans to go to college next year to study fashion design. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with suicide prevention, but her mother is confident the experience will stand her in good stead.
Learn more about SOS at http://sourcesofstrength.org.