Trying to erase a stigma

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Instituted in 2003 by President George W. Bush, the award is given out annually by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, which is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“She’s very passionate, and I think with that passion, she’s able to inspire others and lead in a very positive direction,” Voels said of Kaufman. “We look upon Stefanie to do just that within the school. Whatever she ends up putting her efforts and her mind to in the future, we’re going to see very good things from her.”

When Kaufman gives her presentation to younger kids, she uses a slideshow with facts and statistics about suicide and mental illness before she delves into her own story. “As a 17-year-old, I see in my own high school the issues that go on,” she said. “I’ve had friends who suffered from depression. I think I offer a strong perspective because I’m living it right now.”

One time, she said, a young girl approached her following a presentation and revealed to Kaufman that she was self-harming. “Just to have one person be affected by what I said was a really big deal for me,” she said.

Kaufman is the vice president of her class, and a member of the national, art, math and science honor societies. In the fall she will attend Brown University, where she plans to study neuroscience and literary arts.

In the future, she said, she plans to continue her advocacy to change society’s perception of mental illness and suicide prevention. “I have a complete proposal and everything ready,” she said. “At this point, I’m just waiting for someone to give me attention and listen to me.”

A letter signed by the president might help with that.

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