Tiny plastic candles flickered inside hundreds of paper bags surrounding the Maxson Plaza fountain on Tuesday evening as bypassers solemnly wrote notes on other bags to loved ones lost to suicide or words of encouragement.
A table was set up to the side with paper bags and markers to decorate the bags with. Many participants chose to write an inspirational quote or prayer on their bags before they placed them in rows in front to the fountain.
“It’s to provide support for students on campus who may have been affected by suicide in some way or are struggling with a mental illness,” Jane Killer, director of OCEAN, said. “It’s for the community to gather as a whole to provide a safe space and support for students who are in need of help.”
On Campus Emergency Assistance Network, or Project OCEAN, hosted the event for the third year at California State University, Long Beach. They invited numerous on and off campus organizations to have resource tables available at the event. Students were able to approach the tables and find out what resources are available to them.
“I’ve seen [this event] really bring people together,” said Courtney Lew, a representative with Active Minds. “It helps people remember those that they’ve lost from suicide. Or maybe it might be personal to them because they’ve been battling with issues like that. It really helps people have a sense of community with each other.”
In the opening ceremony, CSULB President Jane Conoley sent a message to be read in her absence. In her message, she addressed the audience directly.
“Your participation in Project OCEAN illustrates to me that you want to create a life-affirming environment for all at the Beach,” Conoley wrote. “Your willingness to be well-informed friends to those who struggle with depression, anxiety, guilt or misdirected anger is admirable and is a critical key to enhancing the wellness of our campus.”
Other mental health advocates spoke at the event, including the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Equity Center on campus, Pam Rayburn, who shared her story about her daughter who committed suicide in college.
“When I think about why we are gathered here tonight, I think it’s because we share something in common. And that is hope,” Rayburn said. “I feel that hope is tied to a part of us that is unique, it relates to that moment when we seek it. What I mean by that is, when I first lost my daughter, I held onto the hope that I would find my way out of the darkness of grief.”
Undergraduate peer counselor Matthew Argame performed his poetry piece “It’s Elementary” about his experience as a child when he lost a family member to suicide during the opening ceremony as well.
“It’s something I’ve been sort of on the fence about sharing because it is very personal, but I realize that that’s stigma trying to hold me back,” Argame said. “So I realize that’s something I needed to break. I think sharing the story, even though it did make me a little bit uncomfortable, I think it was something that had to be done.”