Still We Rise: CHS student to honor classmates who have overcome adversity

Kennedy Guess, a senior in the communication sciences and disorders program, isn’t afraid to speak her mind about mental health. In fact, she’s an open book about her personal battles with depression and anxiety. “There’s a grittiness to my life and in the life of every student in this university,” she said. “Everyone you meet here has a story that you can’t see.”

Depression has been a part of Guess’s life since she was 15. She’s 22 now, a few years older than her current classmates because she took a semester off during her freshman year. “On the outside my life looked perfect. I had great grades. But, no one saw how hard it was for me to get out of bed every day,” she said.

“When I told my parents I was suicidal, they made the right choice to take me out of school," Guess continued. “I’ve been very grateful for their intervention in that moment and for their unconditional support for me over the years. After my semester off, I came back to UK determined to help other students who might be struggling like I am.”

It was in these moments that Guess’s idea for Still We Rise, a banquet to honor UK students who have overcome adversity, was born. The event (sponsored by the Human Development Institute, Student Support Services, Disability Resource Center, and Martin Luther King Center) will be held on February 21, 2019 at the Gatton Student Center.

“Adversity looks different for each person,” Guess said. “Adversity could mean you are going to school with a disability, you’ve lost a parent while in college, or you’re struggling with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.”

The stories of her fellow classmates have continued to inspire Guess to stay vocal about how friends, families, and universities can better support students who face significant adversity.

“One of my sorority sisters has sickle cell anemia. She gets a transfusion every month, and she still maintains a 3.8 GPA,” Guess said. “One student is dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, and she’s still in class every day. Another girl I know works the night shift at FedEx to pay for school and then attends classes. Everyone works hard to achieve their dreams. You see that, but you may not see the feeling of ‘I’m in class, but I’m also in pain’”.

According to Guess, Still We Rise will be a celebration of these differences. She hopes this approach will encourage more people to engage in honest conversations concerning mental health. “When I attended group therapy, other people’s transparency helped me to become more transparent,” she said. “It revealed to me that I have common ground with people I thought were completely different than me. We don’t have to be ashamed of our pain.”

Guess said university resources have helped her immensely since she’s been back in school. “I would highly recommend the counseling center at UK,” she said. “I personally go to behavioral health where I’m provided with a free therapist. Therapists can be expensive, but we have great resources right here on campus. You should never be afraid to seek help.”

Guess also suggested students talk with their academic counselors about any difficulties they may be facing. “My adviser has always offered a listening ear and advice on how to confront the act of balancing my personal and academic lives. He’s been a huge help,” she said.