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Miss North Dakota visits RHS

By Staff | Mar 13, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Miss North Dakota Haley Wolfe (right) demonstrates the difficulty of juggling the responsibilities of high school life with student Anna Duchscherer.

Rugby High School hosted a special presentation Tuesday morning by Miss North Dakota Haley Wolfe, who spoke about a topic she said was deeply personal to her: suicide prevention.

More than 150 middle and high school students listened to Wolfe speak in the school’s darkened Tilman Hovland Auditorium as she pointed to slide show frames of her cousin Derick Wolfe, who died by suicide in 2008.

Wolfe recounted how her cousin had a full life ahead of him as an 18-year-old senior at Harvey High School and described his many activities and accomplishments on the Hornets football team.

Describing Derick, Wolfe said, “He was somebody who when you ask how you’re doing, you answer, ‘fine,’ but you’re not. He was so worried about everyone else, no one was checking on him.”

Wolfe described how people like her cousin could hide their pain, appearing happy to their friends and family while desperate for help on the inside.

“Check on those happy friends,” Wolfe stressed.

“(We should be) checking on those people you never would assume they’re struggling, but sometimes they are,” Wolfe added. “They just keep it all to themselves and they don’t want to reach out because they’re worried about everyone else’s problems.”

Wolfe outlined a checklist of warning signs that could signal a friend or family member needs help.

“Seventy-five percent of suicide victims show warning signs and the other 25 percent are really good at hiding them,” Wolfe told the students.

Wolfe said signs a person needs help include a negative self-image, a sense of hopelessness, a change in behavior, talking about death and substance abuse.

All too often, Wolfe said, these signs may not be taken seriously.

“How often do you hear the saying, ‘They’re just doing it for attention?'” Wolfe asked her audience.

“A lot of us have. I had a school principal tell me that about a student one day,” Wolfe recalled. “You know what I say to those people who say that? I say, ‘So what?'”

“Just because that student does that to have your attention, and they absolutely do, a person behaves a certain way for a specific reason because they’re feeling a certain way,” Wolfe added. “Maybe that person is really struggling and they tried to get your attention in the only way that they know how.”

Wolfe continued, “Making funeral arrangements, giving away possessions – these are two huge warning signs. A lot of people don’t do that because when they’re struggling, they don’t want anyone to know.”

Wolfe showed the students tools they could use to help each other and themselves. One, called a five step action plan, involves asking people questions whether they need help, keeping them safe, being physically and emotionally available, helping them connect with mental health care and following up.

Wolfe said things as simple as a smile could make all the difference to a person contemplating suicide.

She illustrated her point by telling the story of Kevin Hines, who counts himself among the one percent of those who survived a jump from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Wolfe said Hines hoped his decision to jump from the bridge would be prevented by caring acts from strangers, but his tears met with derision or indifference by the people he encountered along the way.

“He says, ‘if one person would have shown me a little act of kindness, something so small as sharing a smile me when I walked by them, I would have called my dad and gone home. I would not have made the decision I did,'” Wolfe recounted.

“You never know what a smile is going to do for someone, especially if they’re keeping all of their pain on the inside.”

Wolfe also shared important sources for help – dialing 211 for First Link North Dakota and the My3 app, which helps students store contact information in their smart phones for emotional health emergencies.

Wolfe added levity to the serious topic to demonstrate the many responsibilities a typical high school deals with and how they can prove overwhelming.

After inviting sophomore Annaliese Duchscherer to volunteer onstage, Wolfe began naming all the responsibilities that come with life in high school, writing each on a balloon, and handing them to Johnson.

Duchscherer soon found herself struggling to hold onto seven large balloons. After attempting to throw all of them in the air and catch them, she found herself with only two “responsibilities”: social media and relationships.

“Are those the two you would have picked as the most important?” Wolfe asked her.

“No,” Duchscherer laughed.

Next, more volunteer students and math teacher Sharon Walker stepped onstage to help Duchscherer handle more balloons.

“It’s going to be impossible when you try to do it all by yourself. You’re going to have to let some things go,” Wolfe explained.

Wolfe said the presentation in Rugby was part of a tour of schools throughout North Dakota. “I’ve probably gone to 50 plus schools and have probably spoken to about 10,000-plus students so far,” she noted.

Wolfe added, “It’s for a very personal reason. I lost my cousin at the age of 18. He was from Harvey and it’s been something I grew up promoting and supporting.”

Wolfe, who is in her senior year as an accounting major at Minnesota State University at Moorhead, said she adjusts her presentation for each group of students. “For elementary schools, it’s more of being a good friend in school. Just different things like that,” she said.

Wolfe said she plans to study for a master’s degree in business administration but she intends to stay active as a volunteer for suicide prevention even after her reign as Miss North Dakota ends.

“The kids know it’s more of a serious subject matter so I don’t sugar coat it,” Wolfe said of her school appearances. “But I like to do fun presentations, kind of give them something to look forward to,” Wolfe added.

“When I say ‘fun presentations,’ I mean just doing an activity to get them to realize how much they have going on in life and how much they can help each other with that,” Wolfe said.

“I like to leave them thinking about it all day,” Wolfe added.

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