When Ralph Juliana received a phone call in May from St. Francis University notifying him that his daughter Alivia had committed suicide, the world he knew would be forever changed.

"It was probably the hardest thing to hear," Juliana said. "It just keeps repeating itself – I hear it everyday."

On Wednesday, St. Francis students, staff and faculty came together to raise awareness of suicide and to remember loved ones who took their own lives. A Suicide Awareness Walk was held during the evening on the Loretto campus, followed immediately by a Survivors of Suicide Vigil.

"We lost two students to suicide this summer, and I knew that at the beginning of this academic year, our students would need something that was set aside as a day for them to come and be together as a community. I just happened to be the one to volunteer to plan it," said Megan Oravetz, a St. Francis senior.

More than 300 people from the university and greater community gathered for the special events on Wednesday.

"It's really, for lack of a better word, cool," Oravetz said. "It's really powerful. You see all of these students in class or the dining hall, but you don't get to see them like this. It's hard to see our students hurt so bad, but this is the place for them to hurt and I'm glad that we're here to support them."

Those who participated in the walk had a moment to not only walk together, but also learn about being kind to others and kind to one's self. Student sponsored tables that offered information about local resources and suicide prevention were placed along the route of the walk.

"September is Suicide Prevention Month, and over the years, we have been doing programming almost every week, whether it's a passive event, an email blast, or a program where we bring somebody to campus to speak about the warning signs of suicide and prevention," said Susan Obarsky, assistant director of the university's counseling center.

"In doing that, we felt as though there was something else that we really needed to do to kind of complete the month of events and we felt the vigil would be a nice opportunity," she said. "It's a time to honor the survivors of suicide by remembering our loved ones."

This year's events mark the fifth year of the vigil and fourth year of the walk on campus, which is something that Obarsky said proves the need for such an outlet.

"It really opens the conversation and helps to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide," Obarsky said.

Participating in the walk on Wednesday was the family of Alivia Juliana. Juliana, 19, a St. Francis student committed suicide in May. During the walk, Juliana was remembered by her brother as a kind person who knew what she wanted in life.

"I think a lot of people just saw her as a kid, but I think she was more than that because she was more grownup than most adults," Angelo Juliana said. "She really had her priorities straight. When she was 13, she was already planning to save for a house.

"She always had the bigger picture in mind."

Angelo Juliana said Wednesday's events held at the university helped him and his family – providing them with a peace of mind and a showing of support from Alivia's St. Francis family.

"It think this is great," Angelo Juliana said. "I really appreciate all of the help and everything that the school has done for us."

Ralph Juliana said that pain of losing his daughter hasn't eased, but he hopes the more he shares Alivia's story, the more of a positive impact will be made on others.

"It's a great thing to be here today," Ralph Juliana said. "I wasn't really sure what to expect, but seeing all of the people here all for the same thing is great.

"If it saves one life, it was worth it."

Ralph Juliana is now encouraging those who may be at risk of suicide to seek help from those around them.

"Don't be afraid to reach out for help," he said. "Don't be afraid to call somebody even if you think it's too late at night or too early in the morning. After something like this happens you look back and you want to check every word and you want to see what you could have done differently.

"There's a void in our family now. We have to find a new normal, and I'm just trying to figure out how to do that."

For information on suicide prevention visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255.

Ronald Fisher is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @FisherSince_82.

Recommended for you