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Feels Like Home
Hannah Insuik Contributing Writer
May 29, 2019
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Deerfield is a place full of memories for me. Memories of bonfires, overly sweaty dances, aga-chi chants, KFCs, late nights, and long chats. I remember walking the small loop with a best friend, or getting fro yo at the Greer. These are the memories that stand out to me, but they are not the reason that I came back here, back to Deerfield.

Soon after leaving DA, I almost lost a good friend to suicide. I felt grief, guilt, confusion, and whole swell of other emotions when I found out. I started to really think about how challenging and taxing Deerfield had been for my friends and me.

Credit: Madeline Lee

Luckily, she survived, and I was left with a sense that I never wanted this to happen to any of my friends again. When a fellow student in college died by suicide my sophomore year, I was again struck by the tragedy and felt the need to do something, anything, to help those people in my communities that were struggling or hurting.

Three years later, after many surveys, interviews, collaborators, and much research, Notice and Connect was born. Notice and Connect is a mental health training aimed at empowering members of communities to feel comfortable noticing when a peer or friend is struggling and then starting an inevitably difficult conversation with that person to try to connect with them about their mental health.

Meanwhile, I had been working hard towards my dream—medical school. I wanted to train to be a physician so that I could use the knowledge that I had gained to help people every day of my life.

However, as graduation approached, I did not feel ready to step right into med school. I, like many of my peers, was planning to take a couple gap years. That is when I scrolled upon Anna Gonzales’ Facebook page, where she had posted about a fellowship she was doing at Deerfield.

Immediately upon realizing it was a possibility, I felt a pull to come back. Teaching at Deerfield seemed not only to fit the parts of myself that I had come to love as I grew up during college, but also afforded me an opportunity to help those students who struggle with the same things that my friends and I struggled with when I was at Deerfield.

Coming back to Deerfield brought me energy. I felt engaged by my students every day. In class, dorms, and athletics, I had meaningful conversations with students about their learning, their passions, their identities, and their mental health. It did not take long for me to fall in love with teaching, and to fall in love with Deerfield all over again.

Deerfield was the same Deerfield as when I left four years earlier, but I was different. I was able to question the Academy in ways that I had never considered as a student. Why do we have a dress code? Why do we have sit down meals? Why do we give cumulative exams? How do our grades relay progress to students?

I was a part of these big conversations that I was oblivious to as a student. It gave me an appreciation for everything my teachers and the school did for me. It gave me motivation to do everything I could to make sure we were serving our students as best we could.

I could finally admit that no, Deerfield was not perfect, but there are people working every day to try to make it better. I felt honored and humbled that I could do my part by being a caring faculty member, and by bringing Notice and Connect to campus.

This past summer, a Penn Fellow that I was close with died by suicide. I was again struck by the importance of friendship and supporting those you care about. I was torn between the part of me that was so proud to be doing this work here and Deerfield, and the part of me that felt I should have done more as a friend.

I realized that suicide and mental health are always going to impact those around me, and the best I can do is to continue to try to help my communities become stronger and more connected.

Coming back to campus this year, I felt a drive to further the conversations. I’ve felt proud that every community member other than the senior class (sorry, seniors, you’ve been a little busy!) have had the Notice and Connect training.

As I move on from Deerfield, I go with a purpose and with a passion for education that I had never expected in myself. I am incredibly excited to work with more young people who give new life and energy to the subjects I teach, the sports I coach, and the spaces I live in.

Although my plans have changed and I will most likely not go to medical school, I know that I am still able to use my experiences to help people every day.