It just so happens that Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, fell on the second Friday of the month this year, which also marked the 10th year of P.S. I Love You Day. The day started at West Islip High …
It just so happens that Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, fell on the second Friday of the month this year, which also marked the 10th year of P.S. I Love You Day. The day started at West Islip High School and is celebrated internationally. Brooke DiPalma, a 2014 West Islip graduate, sparked this difference.
On April 23, 2010, Brooke lost her father, Joe DiPalma, to suicide.
“My dad was dropping me off at school. It was a normal, beautiful Friday morning. My sister was a high school senior. I stole her shoes. I was cool, rolling into eighth grade. Little did I know that three hours later, I would get a call that my dad had died by suicide — that I lost him,” DiPalma said to the filled high school auditorium last Friday.
DiPalma remembered Sept. 23, exactly five months after the tragedy, taking a math quiz.
“None of the numbers made sense on that quiz — not one,” she said. “I went up to [the teacher], and I believe how the story goes is that I passed the test and thought, ‘I failed, but I am fine. I don’t feel like talking about it. I am going to go.’”
Despite the teacher encouraging DiPalma to go see someone, she refused. When she was met with a guidance slip in homeroom the following morning, DiPalma remembered feeling upset.
“I did not want to talk about it because I was fine. I was the girl who smiled every day. I was like my dad,” she said. “What I realized in that moment when I went down to guidance is that I lost who I was — in that moment I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. My guidance counselor, all throughout high school, helped me get to where I am today. It is because I talked about my story that I am standing before you. But I would not be standing before you if it were not for the fact that someone heard me.
“Yes, I have lost my dad to suicide, but what we have done is so much more than that. P.S. I Love You Day is something that we have created together.”
DiPalma reminisced on the last three words her father left her with, before she shut the car door. She ended up running for class president and said she wanted to have a day where everyone wore the same color, as it would bring the class together. Additionally, she suggested that maybe a nearby school would consider taking it on, too.
“Once I told my story, then my sister told hers,” DiPalma said, saying her sister had left for SUNY Cortland just months after their father passed. “She formed a bond, a connection, with people because she made them feel like they mattered. Everyone in this world wants one thing: They want to feel valued.”
The movement has since grown. One year, DiPalma received a photo of a school in Cape Town, South Africa, wearing purple and celebrating P.S. I Love You Day. This year, 243 schools around the world wore purple in commemoration.
“People ask me, ‘how do you get up, and how do you have the courage, and how do you keep it going, and how does school sign on?’ The thing is, though, that it is no longer just my dad,” DiPalma said. “It is this day that we have created together.
“It only takes one person to encourage another to be kind. It takes one person to encourage another to, instead of saying ‘how is your day,’ tell me actually how was your day. All it takes is one person to be that voice for someone else who feels voiceless. Many teachers, many counselors, many friends in this room were my voice when I did not have one,” she continued.
DiPalma began to discuss advocating for oneself and those around you who cannot, maybe at this moment. She asked the sea of students three things: What inspires you? What motivates you? And how are you going to change the world?
“I am not asking if you are going to change the world because I already know that you are,” she said. “It is a matter of figuring out how you will. It could be as simple as holding open the door for someone, saying thank you twice a day. It does not have to be charity work 100 hours a day, but it is you doing simple things, simple connections that you are forming with people that really change people’s lives.”
High school principal Dr. Anthony Bridgeman said he and the rest of the faculty are glad and proud to see DiPalma back on their stage. He added that, although this day started as a tragedy, DiPalma turned it into something incredibly positive. Bridgeman, as the school principal, put his best foot forward to emulate the positivity that DiPalma exhibits in her everyday life.
“This is a loving and welcoming place. To those of you who may be suffering from anxiety, depression, or whatever social/emotional issues: as we always say at West Islip High School, we do have help here for you,” he said. “Reach out and touch someone, and let’s be our brother’s keeper.”