Melissa Majchrzak

Ekpe Udoh, Tyler Cavanaugh honor Herriman High group giving hope after a rash of student suicides

by Aaron Falk

Steward Hudnall calls it “The Awful Year.”

During the 2017-18 school year, six Herriman High students died from suicide, leaving a school and a community stricken with grief and wondering how things might ever get better.

“It was emotionally draining,” said Hudnall, an assistant principal at the high school. “It was really hard. Our school and our students are like our surrogate families. Losing one of them really is like losing a family member.”

But one student group is working to restore hope. The Herriman High Hope Squad is comprised of 30 sophomores, juniors and seniors, each one there to listen to their fellow students, to offer friendship in times of need, and to watch for suicide’s warning signs.

Utah Jazz center Ekpe Udoh and forward Tyler Cavanaugh wanted to recognize those students for their efforts. So on Tuesday night, the two players made a surprise stop at the school before a basketball game between Herriman and rival Riverton.

“What you all are doing is amazing,” Udoh told the Hope Squad. “It’s so courageous and important, looking out for each other, especially with what has happened.”

Each student had a different reason for joining the Hope Squad.

“I’ve gone all in on Hope Squad because I’ve been alone,” junior Hunter Saxton told Udoh and Cavanaugh. “I’ve felt alone. I know what it’s like to feel like nobody is there for you. I just want to make sure no one else has to feel that.”

For junior Haley Smith, the cause was personal.

“When I was younger, one of my friends tried to commit suicide and I was the one that kind of stopped him,” she said. “I want to help people so it doesn’t get that far.”

The Hope Squad’s members don’t try to provide counseling for their fellow students. But they are there to lend support and to get teachers, administrators and counselors involved.

“It’s really important that schools have students that have eyes and are willing to share what’s going on,” said junior Mira Plummer. “As hard as the teachers and administration try, they’re not going to be able to see it without us. Students that speak up have power.”

Hope Squad teacher Jessica Humphrey still feels the impact of Herriman’s awful year.

“It hit everyone. By the end, we were all ready to shut down completely,” she said.

But Humphrey has found hope in her students.

“These kids blow my mind,” she said. “They truly just want to help. They are the most amazingly good-hearted kids. They have only pure intentions and they really want to help.”

Udoh and Cavanaugh gave the students Utah Jazz hats and two tickets to an upcoming game—one for them and one for someone who they think could use a night with a friend.

Udoh also gave each student a copy of Nicole Russell’s book, “Everything a Band-Aid Can’t Fix” and an offer to work with the group in the future.

“I want to give myself and my platform to y’all,” Udoh said. “This is a conversation that should be had on a national level. And when we found out about this, we were eager to come here and see the faces that are making an impact on a grassroots level."

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