Michigan high school students create “13 Reasons Why Not”

Morgan Abbott (Photo Credit: CBS News)

OXFORD, Mich. (CBS News) – The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has been making waves at high schools across the country.

It features a high school girl who sends tapes to 13 people explaining how they wronged her, leading her to end her life. The show has prompted many school districts to send letters to parents, warning that it may be perceived as glorifying and romanticizing suicide. But one Michigan high school took that concept and gave it a positive spin.

On an early Thursday morning in Oxford, Michigan, Morgan Abbott sat in front of a tape recorder at the main office of her high school. It was 7:30 a.m., and the 16-year-old was recording a tape that would be broadcast on the loudspeaker across the entire school. She clicks the record button and brings a mic to her mouth.

“Hi, I’m Morgan Abbott, younger sister of Megan Abbott,” she says. “I know a lot of you didn’t know my sister, but you know of my sister.”

Morgan’s mother sits across from her, already tearing up. “My sister ended her life on May 31, 2013, while she was a freshman here at Oxford High school,” Morgan said.

Morgan is one of several students at Oxford High School who recorded their stories to air to the entire campus every morning for 13 days. The project is inspired by the Netflix show — except, instead of recording tapes targeting people who led them to a dark place, the students are calling out people who helped them out of one. They’re calling it “13 Reasons Why Not.”

“This tape is for you, Riley, Jordan, Jane, Kayla, Alexa, Dylan, Ms. Rambo and all who will go after me today,” says Morgan. “Thank you for doing this project. Thank you for stepping up to prevent suicide.”

The students Morgan mentioned, who didn’t know they were going to be thanked, tear up when they hear their names over the loudspeaker in their classroom.

Amy Hefeli, Morgan’s mother, says listening to Morgan’s recording was difficult.

“It was heart-breaking for me as the mom,” says Amy. “To hear your daughter tell your first daughter’s story, because she’s not here to do it herself.”

Megan Abbott committed suicide in the woods just outside the high school four years ago. She would have graduated this past year. Megan’s death was partially the inspiration for this project.

But the stories aren’t all related to suicide or suicidal thoughts. Many of the students faced down all kinds of despair.

“I’m the varsity goalie for our school’s lacrosse team for girls,” says senior Alexa Alban. “And someone made a comment saying you’re the goalie because you’re the biggest one on the team.”

Alexa says she wanted to broadcast her story to help people like her who’ve been bullied for looking different.

“It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder,” she says of her recording. “But the scary thing is knowing that the person who said something to you could be within the school.”

Dylan Koss, an 18-year-old gay student at Oxford, says he was shaking as he wrote the story of his experience.

“I had been told that I had touched kids inappropriately, especially by the male students,” says Dylan. “And then this year, someone had told me not to rape them.”

Dylan says this was the first time he had ever told anyone, including his mom, about the hardships he faced since coming out. He said the reaction had, to his surprise, been great.

Todd Donckley, the principal of Oxford High School, says the community has reacted just as positively. And he added that the shift in the atmosphere at the school in the aftermath has been noticeably more welcoming.

“One young man [already came forward] saying I went home and talked to my parents,” says Donckley. “[He said,] ‘I’ve been hiding from them that I’ve attempted suicide myself and they didn’t know that and I couldn’t find a place for my feelings.”

Amy is just glad the Netflix show inspired the school to honor her daughter again.

“I am so proud of this project, I wish we had it four years ago,” she says. “And ’13 Reasons Why,’ that Netflix series regardless of anyone’s opinion on it, is bringing out this project and it’s getting people to talk.”

The last tape was broadcast at Oxford on Wednesday, but the school wants to build on the momentum — even if their next project isn’t named after a Netflix show.

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