By Claire Walla
The P.S. I Love You campaign was started last year by a high school student in West Islip, Brooke DiPalma, whose father committed suicide in 2010. His last words to his daughter were: I love you.
According to Pierson eighth grader and student council member Sheila Mackey, DiPalma’s school banded together after the event and wore purple to express their support for her in her difficult circumstance.
“She said she walked into a sea of purple,” explained Mackey who, along with other student council members, had heard DiPalma speak earlier this year at an anti-bullying conference they attended. “And that’s what we wanted to do here.”
“And we did!” Alex Kamper, the student council president, added.
In the vein of what DiPalma began at her school, the Pierson Middle School Student Council have successfully managed to create what they refer to as an atmosphere of support at Pierson. Last Friday, the middle school student body was unified with a sea of purple clothing and individual lockers were decorated with purple post-it notes bearing those three little words.
Purple is actually the national color for abuse prevention, said Helen Atkinson-Barnes of The Retreat, a domestic violence agency on the East End. Atkinson-Barnes was on-hand during the student-led activities last Friday, but she’d also been a presence on the Pierson campus the first two weeks in February, leading talks for seventh and tenth grade students on the elements of healthy relationships on behalf of The Retreat.
Student council members first learned about P.S. I Love You this past fall when they attended an anti-bullying conference put on by the Holocaust Center in Commack. In addition to presentations by DiPalma — who made a YouTube video about her struggle, and the good that eventually came of it — students watched a video made by a teen who had been bullied and became suicidal.
As part of their P.S. I Love You campaign, the Pierson students wanted to show these videos to their classmates.
“You could see jaws drop in the audience,” said Mackey.
She went on to explain that student council members also came up with a concept of their own, called “mix-it-up at lunch,” where students sat in groups according to their birth months, rather than their peer groups. The concept, Mackey continued, was to get students to mingle and learn about classmates they’ve never really talked to before.
Her fellow councilmember Ariana Moustakas said their goal was to raise awareness about these issues and encourage students to exercise more tolerance.
“We want to use this day to influence people,” she began. “Because when everyone’s nice to each other, it makes a big difference.”
“The kids seemed a lot nicer,” Mackey added. “I definitely want to bring it up to the high school.”