Needham High School is once again bustling with students, excitement for the new school year filling its hallways.
Meanwhile, something else looms large outside the building — a 7-foot-tall stainless-steel sculpture that visitors are meant to wander into and experience, not just look at from afar. Inside it, two curved panels are peppered with quotations from people who live or work in town. The panels are mirror-like, reflecting each viewer’s own image.
“I was looking for any clue I could find,’’ reads one quote, “that there was someone out there like me.’’ “Maybe if I tell her my story . . . ” reads another. And yet another: “It can be a difficult conversation, but what if no one had it?’’
But having a conversation, no matter how difficult, about mental health issues is precisely what the Own Your Peace sculpture is all about. It’s the latest step in an initiative students launched eight years ago after four young people in the community were lost to suicide.
“It’s really amazing when you’re inside [the sculpture,]” said Jon Mattleman, director of Needham Youth Services. “It’s reflective. We want people to be reflective. When you’re dealing with depression, it feels really isolating. It feels like you’re the only one. You’re not the only one. We want you to lift yourself up if you can or get help from a friend or professional help. . . . You’re important, your mental health is important.”
“[The work marks] a place that is different from all others, to stop and pause and think about the precious things that life can bring and the power that individuals and communities have together to make lives healthy and well,” said Own Your Peace president Beth Pinals.
While the quotes inscribed inside seek to inspire reflection, the sculpture’s curved panels are meant to represent a portal of change or a hug to whoever is walking through. Pinals stressed that, while it sits outside Needham High, the sculpture is aimed at a wider audience. And Own Your Peace organizers say they have reached out to others schools in the area, hoping to inspire others to create similar groups.
The Own Your Peace initiative holds a series of events throughout the year, such as poster campaigns and wellness breakfasts, culminating in an Own Your Peace week in March. That week features a session at which eight to 10 students share their personal stories of strength and overcoming adversity.
“I think the sculpture will act in part as something the group can refer to and as a tangible symbol of the group’s goal,” said Dan Mahoney, who graduated from the school last year and served as a cochairman of the initiative. “We are trying to establish a community in the high school that is really accepting of all the students . . . a more welcoming community in which everyone in the high school feels that it is a safe and happy place to be.”
The idea for the sculpture first emerged around three years ago. The group commissioned Cambridge-based artist Ted Clausen, known for the Vendome Fire Memorial in Boston, to create the work.
Clausen and Own Your Peace members conducted extensive interviews with people who live or work in Needham — young children, students, police officers, pastors, veterans. Combining their feedback with research culled from archives, newspapers, and journals, the group decided on fifty eight quotes that best represented the group’s thrust. They include one from a war veteran, a first responder, and a minister who brought Needham families word of loved ones lost at the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
“It’s an incredible legacy for the kids to be a part of,” said Pinals. “It’s been a lovely partnership between the kids and adults and between [Clausen] and the community.”
The Own Your Peace sculpture will be officially dedicated Thursday at 4 p.m.Cynthia Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.