Students passing quickly through the halls see colorful posters, the faces of their peers, and teachers standing in their doorways.
With this brief interaction, it’s hard to imagine the lives and hidden struggles of those going through this routine. Everyone has different experiences that make up who they are as a person; some are positive, and some are negative. Many of us have no insight to the deeper person that this perceived “stranger” is. Sophomore Sophie Fenton wants to change that. She has created Tigard’s Anonymous Journal as a way to change the conversation and give people a new look into the unknown tales of their peers. This completely anonymous project works as such; students pick up a paper with the project’s rules on it, either from Fenton or from the Publication’s room. Then said student writes about whatever they’re comfortable expressing to others—a recent struggle to a happy memory, their favorite song to a nostalgic experience, an ode to a loved one to a rant about homework. The only things asked of the writers is that they only use one side of the paper, no obscene language, and that people involved in the stories are not named directly. This is important, as to keep the story anonymous (instead using Person A and Person B, or phrases such as “my teacher” or “my friend” in proxy). Other than that, the writer has complete freedom in what they want to write about. Fenton drew inspiration for this project from the Strangers Project, created by Brandon Doman. The Strangers Project revolves around anonymous letters written by visitors of the Strangers Project booth, namely in New York (however similar, affiliated stems have been taken to other cities around the country). Fenton was deeply inspired by this, and wanted to see if the same could be done at our school.
“ I love learning about other people,” Fenton said. “I think that’s one of the joys of life- getting to know as many people as possible.”
Before starting Tigard’s Anonymous Journal, Fenton wanted to get a general consensus from friends and teachers about the project. In doing this she’s received little opposition, instead gaining praise and minor style suggestions. However, there was one aspect that she has been frustrated about: students not wanting to write.
“The hardest part is people don’t want to write! It’s so frustrating because it’s like dude, just write,” Fenton said. “You have something in your brain. You can figure something out.”
Fenton needed help getting the word out, especially if she wanted it to impact in the way she hoped it would. Senior Madison Willems has helped with this aspect, talking about this assignment to her IB Art Seminar class and to her group of friends. She likes the emotional outlet it creates for students: an opportunity to be public, but intimate at the same time.
“I’ve been mostly doing publicity stuff, so I’m helping her get the word out,” Willems said. “I think it’s a really good outlet for people to talk about their feelings without it being personal.”
Writing has started to roll in, and Fenton has begun to see the impact that this project was having on others. Students have poured out their hearts in these letters, opening up about sensitive topics such as mental health struggles, love, and parents’ divorce. What started off as a small idea became a medium for silently struggling students to vent about their dilemmas, and feel less alone, but protected, in the process.
“Our love is relentless, resilient. Let us drink worship from each others lips as wildflowers billow from all our damage. I love you I love you I love you. No matter what stupid actions I may take, its only ever truly you I want,” one letter read.
“Life sucks forever my man, but it’s up to you to make the best of it. You’re as happy as you make up your mind to be,” another read.
Writers were creating masterpieces with their writings, and Fenton couldn’t be happier. “They’re very emotional, and that goes for positive emotions and negative emotions,” Willems added. “Some of them are kinda funny to read because it’s people talking about some funny experiences they’ve gone through.”
These letters will be posted either above Senior Benches and across from the bathrooms in the business hall. She wants them in a place people can conveniently read them as they’re walking down the halls. While reading these letters, many will notice that the subject of mental health is mentioned repeatedly. Some participating in the project have written letters expressing their struggles with bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, and so on. This was a portion of the project that Fenton hoped writers would indulge in, as writing about your mental struggles can, in turn, help the situations of others.
“One person wrote that she had bipolar disorder, and no one else knew except her mom and her therapist. But I think it was amazing, because I now know that there’s someone out there like that, and that they’re comfortable writing about it and sharing their story, even if its anonymous. I mean it’s heavy stuff for sure, but just that- you know- people are writing about it and getting comfortable with [writing].” Fenton said.
Fenton’s project has created a safe space that students can feel comfortable divulging in possibly uncomfortable situations in their lives. Students might feel better writing down their hardships than talking to a counselor or adult; however, our school has many resources available created especially for these struggling students.
Counselor Emily Cabrera wants to remind students that they are never, ever alone, and to not suffer through mental health trials via cutting those important to you off. But, she likes the project and the medium it creates to bring other students together.
“Sometimes students worry about getting adults involved, and they think they’re gonna be in trouble, or the adult isn’t going to be able to help,” Cabrera says, “But it’s really hard for people to dig out of mental health issues without the support of adults and people around them.”
She continues with reassurance for students going through hard times. Cabrera knows that while Tigard Anonymous Journal can be a great way to talk about mental health/ experiences surrounding it, or talking to a trusted adult is the most beneficial way to cope with any struggle.
“It can feel tempting to isolate yourself, but actually the opposite [is best]. Reaching out, telling people what you need, and having people support you to get through [whatever you’re dealing with].” Cabrera said.
High school can be overwhelming, and, in the grand scheme of things, students can feel pretty small. But through the accounts of anonymous students and their testimonials, Fenton hopes that this project helps students feel less alone while walking through the crowded halls of Tigard High. Students can see what other students have gone through, and find comfort in their stories.
“A lot of the time we’re so stuck in our own heads that we don’t realize that other people are going through the exact same thing [we’re going through],” Fenton said, “With this writing, people can go through them and be like ‘Oh, this person feels the same way I do’, and [knowing that] there’s someone out there like that.”
Be on the lookout for these incredible pieces posted up in business hall. If you’re interested in writing a letter yourself, contact Fenton, Willems or any other Publications staff member for more information, or stop by the Pubs room.