Jacob Salzman Outstanding Student Award

ISABEL M. ZAYAS

 
Years after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, Isabel Zayas found herself asking “What would Anne do?” In high school, she battled depression and anxiety, and, like Anne, felt marginalized and alone.“No matter how overwhelming my own experiences,” she confided in her Spirit of Anne Frank Scholarship Award application,“I realized how terrifying Anne’s were…Anne taught me the value of resilience; I worked hard to emulate her.”

She did this by founding the first LETS chapter in her home state of Connecticut.The national organization—which stands for “Let’s Erase the Stigma”—raises awareness about mental health issues affecting teens. For its first major project, Isabel asked students from her high school to write about someone they know who suffers from mental illness. Over 300 cards—bearing messages like “My best friend committed suicide” and “My sister has depression” — were then posted in the school, creating a sense of support and solidarity.

And she did not stop there. Isabel has presented her ideas to the Connecticut State Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board.
Unsurprisingly, she will continue this work in the Honors Program at American University in D.C. this fall. In spirit, Anne will accompany her there. “Speaking out through her autobiography,Anne inspired me to share my story with others…As Anne wrote, ‘We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.’”