Before Anna Aslanian took her own life last year, the Lowell teen wrote in a letter that she hoped to bring awareness to the importance of mental health.
Anna’s family found that letter in the days after her suicide. Anna, who loved horror movies and making her friends laugh, had just celebrated her 16th birthday.
On the night she died, her best friend, Kerron MacDonald, was waiting for her at Lowell’s Luna Theater, where they had planned to see the movie “Halloween” with their mothers. Kerron, and everyone who knew and loved Anna, was devastated by her tragic death and only learned of the depths of her despair after she was gone. The teenager, whose story was featured in a Herald series, had been relentlessly bullied.
“I was just really shocked,” Kerron told me of Anna’s suicide. “I didn’t see any of it coming.”
Now, Kerron, 16, is carrying out Anna’s final wish to bring much-needed attention to teenage mental health. At the State House Wednesday, Kerron was given the Student ChangeMaker award by Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that helps students make changes in their communities.
The award came after Kerron, a Lowell High School junior, took the lead in a project in U.S. history teacher Joseph Jussaume’s class to make the case for an elective course on teenage mental health. The high school course would cover issues such as anxiety and depression, and let students know where to get help. A student survey they did found most teens would welcome such a course. Kerron also invited Anna’s mother to speak to the class.
Kerron’s proud parents, John and Dawn MacDonald, looked on as Kerron delivered a moving speech before a big crowd of students, drawing a standing ovation.
“Anna would always come off to my friends and I as such a confident, beautiful, strong young lady although that wasn’t her reality. She hid her depression and suicidal thoughts for so many years and didn’t even bat an eye,” Kerron said. “Anna didn’t want to be remembered for taking her life. She wanted her story to inspire others to make change.”
Kerron encouraged students to be kind and ask one another how they’re doing. “Everything I do is through Anna’s helping hand,” Kerron said.
Kerron, who met Anna in kindergarten, told me her friend deserved a long life full of happiness and would have wanted teens to take a mental health course.
“Anna would be so happy to see all of this,” said Kerron’s mother, Dawn. “This is what she wanted.”