Column: How ‘P.S. I Love You’ is helping others

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03/09/2014 12:00 PM |
Shoreham-Wading River student Giavanna Verdi created this bulletin board where people can post compliments, inspirational quotes or song lyrics.

Shoreham-Wading River student Giavanna Verdi created this bulletin board where people can post compliments, inspirational quotes or song lyrics. (Credit: Giavanna Verdi)

There’s something I’d like to add to a bulletin board that’s being used to display thoughts on compassion. The board is mounted to a wall in Shoreham-Wading River High School.

Here’s what I’d like to post, because if it helped me, maybe it could help others: “Life goes by so fast. You only want to do what you think is right. Close your eyes and then it’s past. Story of my life.”

This is the chorus to “Story of My Life,” a 1990 song by the underground southern California band Social Distortion.

Whenever I hear these lyrics, I’m 17 again, driving around at night in my first car — a gold 1974 Dodge Dart that didn’t have a working speedometer. The “sound system” consisted of one large, old stereo speaker designed for a living room, which dominated the floor space in the back seat.

I played “Story of My Life” and other Social D songs constantly. This particular song is about casting aside the judgments of others and symbolizes hope to anyone who’s been dealt a hefty dose of hard luck.

At least, that’s been my takeaway for the last 15 years. I feel like a lot of my friends understood that message, especially an old friend’s brother named Tom, who more than likely didn’t know how much he helped me adjust to moving into a new school district — and trying to make new friends.

So back to Shoreham-Wading River High School, where senior Giavanna Verdi wants her classmates to be mindful of other people’s feelings. She also wants to teach students how to persevere in the face of unwholesome situations. She’s trying to achieve these goals through a campaign called “P.S. I Love You.”

The 17-year-old from Wading River first learned about the program last year after attending a student conference at Adelphi University. That’s where she met West Islip High School student Brooke DiPalma.  Brooke created “P.S. I Love You Day” two years ago in an effort to deter bullying after her father, Joseph, who was relentlessly harassed at work, committed suicide in 2010.

“P.S. I Love You Day” falls each year on the second Friday of February. This year, that Friday was Valentine’s Day.

After watching Brooke’s presentation, which included an emotional video that’s available on YouTube, Giavanna decided to bring her message of the importance of compassion to the SWR community.

“You can tell [Brooke] is so dedicated to her program through her commitment, dedication and passion for spreading kindness and love throughout her community and other schools as well,” Giavanna said. “It made me want to bring it to my school.”

Before an interview at the high school last month, Giavanna plopped down an oversized bag filled with materials for the “P.S. I Love You” table she was setting up in front of the school cafeteria. She was selling pencils, handmade bracelets, ribbons and bandanas, with all of the proceeds going to the Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore. Each item was purple — the color symbolizing anti-bullying efforts.

The bag also contained purple index cards, which are used to write down compliments, inspirational quotes or song lyrics to be posted on the bulletin board I mentioned before.

Giavanna, who’s in the midst of applying to colleges, working, studying and writing for the school newspaper, said she feels it’s important to spread the message of compassion and has created a website, giverdi96.wix.com/psiloveyouday, to support that effort.

Although she said physical acts of violence among her peers are few and far between, Giavanna said she’s witnesses forms of cyberbullying at SWR, and believes the community needs to stay focused about standing up against teasing and harassment.

Last year, Giavanna organized one “P.S. I Love You Day” event at her high school. This year, she was able to expand on those efforts districtwide.

“You have to start at a young age so it doesn’t happen in the future,” she said about reaching the younger students.

As an education reporter, I’ve covered other anti-bullying efforts like Giavanna’s.

Southold Elementary School teacher Beth Ann Wineberger is having her first-grade students fill small, plastic buckets daily with notes marking the exchange of compliments, thank you’s and other displays of kindness.

In October, Mattituck High School students watched the 2011 documentary “Bully,” which reveals how bullying has affected children and their families.

Many of the students admitted to becoming teary-eyed after watching the heart-wrenching tales of hopelessness and despair that led several teens to suicide.

Last fall, principal Leonard Skuggevik of Greenport High School launched the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which requires students to meet monthly to discuss anti-bullying techniques.

Although I don’t know if Tom was bullied before I knew him, I’ve found myself wondering while covering such school events that if suicide prevention programs like these had been more readily available when I was younger, maybe he would still be with us today.

He would have turned 34 last month.

Despite the passage of time, the memories remain clear. Whenever I — or anyone else — was feeling down and out, Tommy would work to show us the brighter side of life. I never felt self-conscious around him, and we would playfully pride ourselves on having to settle for the generic stuff.

“They taste better once you remember how cheap they are,” he’d say.

More than anything, I miss his smile. As the song continues, “Good times come and good times go. I only wish the good times would last a little longer. I think about the good times we had and why they had to end.”

I’d probably add that line to the bulletin board, too. P.S., I love you.

Jennifer Gustavson is Times/Review Newsgroup’s senior staff writer. She can be reached at 631-354-8033 or jennifer@timesreview.com.

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