Broken Dreams Starts Conversation About Students’ Mental Health


Meleah York, Editor-in-Chief

The students at Keller High were exposed to a simulation called Broken Dreams, a spinoff of the drunk driving awareness program Shattered Dreams, on February 26. Broken Dreams was primarily focused on the issue of mental health but also covered the dangers of drunk driving.

Many students view Shattered Dreams as problematic. Some didn’t fully understand, and others were offended by not only the video’s portrayal of people who are suicidal, but also by the funeral service held in the gym on Wednesday.

The purpose of this article is to talk about the facts: what happened, why did it happen, and what was the intention. However you received Shattered Dreams, it’s important to take the facts into account, especially when dealing with the issue of mental health.

“The counselors came to us [STUCO] last year and said to write a story,” said senior Aashni Thakkar. “Obviously, we know the students better than they do, so everyone in STUCO came up with a story, then we picked the most accurate one and modified it.”

The video was an account of the following scenario: a girl, played by senior Julia Erb, has a seemingly perfect life and group of friends but struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. Julia’s friends invite her to a house party, and she is dubbed the designated driver. The party footage in the video is a montage of underage drinking, barely showing Julia. In the morning, Julia wakes up her hungover friends, they convince her to take a shot of an alcoholic beverage before leaving, then they all get in the car and drive to Keller High.

On the way to school, Julia opens up to her friends about her depression and reveals to them that she has been thinking of suicide. Her friends react coldly, joking about difficult classes making them want to “kill themselves” too and do not take Julia’s pleas for help seriously. Julia gets fed up and exclaims that she’s done, crashing the car into another car on Pate Orr Road.

Over the school intercom after the video ended, we heard Julia’s 911 call and loud beeping noises. Juniors and seniors were escorted outside to see the staged car wreck while sophomores and freshman watched via live feed.

Say what you will about the simulation wreck or how it affected you, but the fact is that every person standing out on Pate Orr Road was dead silent when Julia got out of the car and began screaming, shaking her friends’ bodies. Her acting skills were incredibly effective; she was honestly the perfect fit for this role, from both a talent and emotional standpoint.

“The reason why we picked Julia for the part was because we wanted to show that you don’t need to be bullied, or your parents don’t need to be abusing you or anything like that for you to be suicidal, it could be anyone,” said Thakkar. “We wanted everyone to be able to connect to it.”

Eventually, police and emergency responders showed up to the scene, as well as a hearse to take away the bodies of the (fake) dead students from the crash. The students were shown the real cost of reckless and drunk driving through the simulation, and the intention was to create awareness by encouraging conversation.

Throughout the day, administrators dressed as grim reapers walked the hallways. The heart monitor that came over the loudspeaker symbolized a real statistic that every 15 minutes, a student dies from a mental health related accident. When this sound come on the intercom, a grim reaper would walk in to usher a student out of the classroom while a security guard read that student’s obituary written by their parents. These students were predetermined and nominated to participate in Broken Dreams, but they were able to choose whether or not they wanted to volunteer.

The following day, students viewed a funeral in the big gym for the victims of the simulated crash. The event started with a speech by Principal Simmons, followed by the characters who survived the crash having a chance to speak. After these speeches, three men came onstage, a group called Journeyman Ink, specializing in messages of positivity, intended to uplift their audience. One man switched between instruments such as a tenor sax, bongos, and a recorder while the other two men began to chant uplifting phrases, sing, and rap.

“The students planned everything up to until the keynote speakers,” said Thakkar. “We wanted to end the whole thing on Julia’s speech because we felt like it was the most real. You’re not going to have an uplifting ceremony after a funeral. The counselors told us no and said that we had to leave the students with something uplifting. The group was intended to empower students. When they started bursting out in song, I looked at my friends and we were like, ‘what’s going on?’”

“My sister was in the gym during the funeral, and she said that it was clear that it wasn’t part of the funeral anymore,” said senior Abby Tow. “On the live stream that the juniors and seniors watched, we had no idea what was going on.”

What many students were not aware of is that the students involved in the crash simulation and the ones taken out of class went to an overnight retreat instead of going home, attempting to simulate to parents the idea of their child losing their life in an accident.

During the retreat, teachers, counselors, and students bonded and talked about mental health issues. There were activities involving letters written to and from parents, group discussions, and the same group who performed at the funeral also performed for the small group of students.

Retreat participants describe the impact of Journeyman Ink as very uplifting and moving. Their website states their mission “to strengthen social and emotional literacy and create safe spaces for authentic connection that activates joy, compassion, empathy, and engagement with organizations, schools, and communities”. Journeyman Ink spoke at the retreat, and did not use music to convey their message.

“Everyone at the retreat was so involved with the speakers,” Thakker said. “We all could not wait for the next day. But that was an intimate group and the funeral wasn’t. We couldn’t do the partner activities from the retreat with such a large group of people. We thought that the guys would just talk to us but instead they started singing. We were unprepared, literally none of the students knew that was happening.”

“After putting on such an emotional thing that we worked for months on, putting our heart and souls into it, it was frustrating,” Thakker continues. “People forgot about the emotional stuff and would come up to us [STUCO members] asking, ‘what was that?’ Students didn’t have closure over [Broken Dreams]. Everything just ended weirdly.”

Communication gaps extended farther than between students and counselors. There were also barriers when it came to the video editing.

“The KCAL teacher was great, and he listened to us, but we weren’t exactly heard because we are students,” said Thakkar. “We would have to communicate our ideas to the KCAL teacher through Mr. Upton. Honestly, I really don’t think this was anyone’s fault in particular. It wasn’t the filming guys, it wasn’t us, they were just coming from one place and we were coming from another.”

Thakker explained that the editors the footage didn’t include enough shots of Julia sitting alone at the party to make the story line clearer, although they filmed many instances.

“The whole party scene, all of the filming I had to do was either in the bathroom crying and looking in the mirror which wasn’t used at all, or sitting on the couch with everyone else having fun,” said senior Julia Erb.

“I think people that have mental health struggles didn’t relate to Julia’s character because they didn’t see her being sad, they just saw someone who said she was depressed, and then killed a bunch of people,” says Tow. “Students with mental health issues didn’t see themselves because it wasn’t how they felt, but they can relate to being the only one at the party who isn’t having a good time. I think there was a huge disconnect [with the film editing].”

Broken Dreams is based off of the program Shattered Dreams, which focuses only on the dangers of drunk driving using a car crash simulation. STUCO students were told by the counselors told that Broken Dreams must include both mental illness and drunk driving.

“We talked last year about not even having a car crash, but we couldn’t simulate a suicide to create awareness, that’s not something that’s okay,” said Thakkar. “This had to be in a large public space where students could see it. The car crash made the most sense.”

The biggest disconnect lies in combining the issues of mental illness and drunk driving. This is messy territory. Students were asked to combine two things and make them connect in some way that was accurate, which creates a lot of pressure on them.

To conclude that there was malicious and uneducated intent is false. These students worked so hard over the past year to portray something extremely difficult and did the best that they could with what they were given. Arguments can be made that the focus of Shattered Dreams should have been over a single issue rather than combining two, which would have ultimately made the program run a lot smoother, but that blame does not lie with the STUCO members.

As problematic as Broken Dreams seemed to be, there are still positive outcomes.

“It’s effective because people who are suffering through [mental illness] are saying it’s not accurate, and now they’re doing some introspection, thinking about why they know it’s not accurate,” said senior Max Geiszler.

“There are people at the school who needed Broken Dreams,” said Thakkar. “We’ve had so many people come to the counselors. I’m almost happy it wasn’t perfect because that’s why we’re talking about it right now. If it was perfect everyone would have moved on. Now students are asking questions. This issue is so important to me, and I want to talk about it because it’s something I’m so passionate about.”


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Wigwam or official policies of The Wigwam.