Wolverines Take Center Stage

By Sebastian Soltes Class of 2022
As the fourth quarter comes to a close, student involvement on campus is at an all-year high, as evidenced by three students who volunteered to address the class in Chapel: Sam Bonder, Ryan Peters, and Max Toscani. While the topics were varied, all of these students’ stories shared common themes: resilience, bravery, and strength. 
Sam Bonder gave the first remarkable speech on the importance of mental health advocacy among men and checking on your friends. Before taking the podium, he took to the community, talking to his peers to learn how suicide has played a part in their lives. These conversations revealed that a large part of the student population had been affected by suicide. Sam used these conversations as inspiration, even embedding some of the conversations with students into his speech anonymously to show that suicide doesn’t just affect a specific demographic; it is a universal problem. Sam began his speech by sharing that in 2019 there were nearly 2 ½ times more suicides than homicides in the United States; it was the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34, with men being 3-8 times more likely to commit suicide than women. For Sam, the issue is personal, “I know four people who have successfully taken their own life; I’m sure many of you know someone too.” He also touched upon the common societal narrative that suicide is “selfish” and/or “cowardly.” Sam went on to say, “Imagine living every day of your life with a voice in your head telling you that everyone is better off without you. For some people, they don’t have to imagine this; it is their reality.” Sam then took the opportunity to urge anyone in the community who is having dark or depressive thoughts to reach out, be it to a friend, teacher, or staff member. He ended the speech by offering to be a safe person to talk to for anyone who may be struggling or feeling alone. 
Ryan Peters was the next student to take the podium, addressing his peers about the importance of perseverance, which brought him to Bridgton and will take him to Curry College in the fall. “I’ve been a fighter from the beginning—I was twelve weeks old when my mom realized that I couldn’t support a crayon with my own hand.” By the time Ryan reached preschool, he had enrolled in the occupational, physical, and speech therapy programs to strengthen his motor and communication skills. As he got older, Ryan became passionate about working out, football, and wrestling, helping him overcome his feelings that he was different from his peers. “When I was lifting, playing football, or wrestling, I was forced to find out more about myself and feel more comfortable in my own skin…I was stronger now that I had found my outlets.” Since coming to Bridgton, Ryan has done a bit of self-reflection, “I’ve learned that I’m a good person, kind-hearted, and so much stronger than I ever thought I was.” Ryan closed by offering encouragement to his fellow Wolverines, “No matter what you have, a physical difference or a mental disorder, you are not bound to any diagnosis or anyone else’s thoughts. If you persevere and never give up, you are capable of anything. You are so much greater than you think you are, so much stronger than you know.” 
The next week brought Max Toscani to the podium to discuss “appreciation and why you should appreciate those who care about you before they’re gone.” Max was born to a teenage mother in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and ultimately lived in an orphanage there for four-and-a-half years. He was then adopted by Lisa, a single mother in Pennsylvania who would raise Max on her own. He touched upon how he was bullied in the first and second grades for being different and his difficulty making friends. He remarked that he spent most of his days alone while Lisa was working, often wishing that she was more like “other moms” who had more time to spend with their children. A few years later, Max learned that his mother was in the hospital. “I was told she had stage four lung cancer, I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, but from the adults’ reactions, I knew it wasn’t good.” Lisa passed away on December 22, 2016. Max says that he deeply regrets comparing her to other mothers, rather than just appreciating who she was. He closed by saying, “comparison is the thief of happiness, and it stole all the happiness I could have had with her. I try to appreciate everything I have; I recommend you guys do as well. You never truly know someone’s worth until they are gone for good. Accept rather than expect because expectations are easily disappointed.”