If Yolanda were alive today she would be wowing us all. She was articulate, engaging, moving, smart and courageous. And she, like many other young people, battled an illness that can bring formidable challenges. There are many other young people who are coping, just as she was, with a terrible struggle within them. And alongside each one of them are the people who know and love them.
Yolanda died 2 years ago today. In an impulse no one still quite understands, she committed suicide one January night. Her battle with bipolar illness was over. If she were still here, she would now be 18, once an age of increased privileges. Today, many of those privileges come earlier or later, but it is still a milestone year.
Yolanda left a legacy. In May 2007, she went before the Massachusetts legislature and spoke about her struggles with bipolar disorder, the system that often didn’t meet her needs and her own desire to make a difference. She knew that the system that provided mental health services to children and teens needed some changes and she made sure she was part of seeing those changes begin.
Now, it’s pretty scary to go before legislative committees and talk to them. And this was a large hearing in a huge auditorium. Yolanda had to sit and speak to a committee sitting raised above her with 300 people listening behind her. It took courage, poise and determination. It’s unusual for legislative committees to hear from teens. They hear from heads of companies and advocates like me and they certainly hear from lobbyists. So they paid attention to every word she spoke that day. I later talked to members of that committee and they remembered her verve and poise.
On that day, and probably many other days, Yolanda was an advocate. I looked up the definition of advocate and the dictionary definition is, “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; or to recommend publicly.” Because of her amazing qualities, the bill she testified for became known as Yolanda’s Law and was passed by the legislature in one session, a remarkable feat.
Even though Yolanda’s influence lives on through “her” law, her presence is felt strongly in other ways. Her mother, Maryann Tufts, says that Yolanda “speaks to me often in amazing ways. Through every kid I see who is struggling to get through their day, to make friends, to feel better, to fit in. We miss her so much, but know that she is still so present in every way.”
Yolanda touched many lives. She was a remarkable young woman. She was loved by her family, her friends and touched so many lives. If love alone could have kept Yolanda here, she would have lived to be a hundred years old.