Pingry's 157th Commencement Exercises on June 10 were marked by thoughtful words from students, faculty, and administrators. Here are a few, featured excerpts, followed by a slideshow of memorable moments.
In his senior year at Muhlenberg College, Andrew Onimus was on top of the world. "I call that my '1,000 foot' moment," he says, describing his enthusiasm, energy, and potential as a young man entering his final year of college. He was a starting cornerback for his school's football team, captain of the track and field team, and had secured a full-time position in a large accounting firm in Philadelphia even before graduating. "I came from a middle-class, loving family; I had what I considered a perfect life," Mr. Onimus said. After an injury during the first game of his senior year, however, Mr. Onimus's perfect life took a drastic turn.
"I've had plenty of injuries in football," said Mr. Onimus, "but this one was different." While the hits to his back and head appeared to be superficial, he suddenly found himself sleeping about three hours every night. "I tried turning on the fan, adjusting the heat, going for a run, push-ups, over-the-counter medication—nothing worked." Mr. Onimus started experiencing anxiety spikes and panic attacks. He lost weight, lost interest in football, and eventually dropped off the team. At his lowest point, Mr. Onimus was having suicidal thoughts and ideation. A far cry from his "1,000 foot moment," Mr. Onimus felt like he was at zero.
Mr. Onimus is a representative of Minding Your Mind, an organization that seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Members like Mr. Onimus share their personal stories of struggle and recovery in the hopes of starting conversations with communities regarding mental illness and mood disorders, as well as providing resources for people who may need help.
"At first I tried to hide it," Mr. Onimus said. "I thought that it was all in my head, something that I just needed to 'get over.' It was when I started to think about suicide that I knew something was really very wrong." Mr. Onimus left school to address his mental health, but without help his condition didn't improve. He described his constant panic attacks and self-harm. Now in a crisis situation, Mr. Onimus was taken to the emergency room where a doctor diagnosed him with major depression and severe anxiety.
With a proper diagnosis, Mr. Onimus began the long road to recovery. "I thought it would be a straight line," Mr. Onimus admitted. "But I still had bad days—days where I was much worse than I was in the emergency room. It took a long time, slowly getting back to where I was, step by step. Even something as simple as enjoying my breakfast cereal or walking my dog down the driveway was hard for me, but they were all important steps in my recovery."
Returning to Muhlenberg wasn't easy either, but Mr. Onimus was able to make up the work he had missed and walk with his friends at graduation. Not only that, but his friends and teammates used Mr. Onimus's story to try to make a positive change for people who may be suffering. Seeing the impact that his story had, Mr. Onimus's recovery "took off."
"Right now, I'm the happiest I've ever been," Mr. Onimus said. "What we do at Minding Your Mind is try to get the message out to people who may be struggling that you're not alone, recovery works, and you will beat this. It's important to share the stories of struggle, but more importantly, I want to share the story of my recovery." During his meetings with the Upper and Middle Schools, and with parents later that evening, Mr. Onimus provided resources for people struggling with mood disorders and mental illness. Following the first session, students gathered with Mr. Onimus in the O'Connor Board Room for a group discussion, asking and answering questions about situations they have experienced or witnessed.
In the end, Mr. Onimus isn't really sure if that hit on the football field caused his illness, if it was genetic, or something else altogether. "I guess it doesn't really matter," he said. "I still have a mood disorder, I still take medication, and I still talk to my therapist when I need to. If I hadn't gone through that time in my life, I wouldn't be here right now, sharing my story of recovery. These things can be hard to talk about, and often times we don't speak about mental illness—I feel that it's important to start these conversations, and remove the stigma surrounding the mental illnesses that affect so many people."
"It's okay to not be okay," Mr. Onimus said. "Like any other illness, mental illness and mood disorders require treatment and support. So speak up, and don't be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help."
The Gilbert Harry Carver '79 Memorial Fund was established in memory of Gilbert Carver '79 by his father Calvin and stepmother June Carver, his sister Marcey Carver, his brother Chip Carver, Jr. '77, and Chip's wife Anne DeLaney '79. This fund supports open dialogue on self-esteem and acceptance and, thanks to its supporters, will continue in perpetuity.
Contact: Ed Lisovicz, Advancement Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org