During his concert at William E. Hay Composite High School last week, Robb Nash said he and his band had collected a total of 277 suicide notes from students and others who have seen their shows.
Frequently, students who were considering suicide beforehand will hand their notes to Nash and his bandmates, after hearing their message and choosing to commit to a new direction in their lives.
After his visit to Stettler, Nash said the total now comes to 278.
Wherever he and his band go, he said, they find teens are dealing with the same kinds of issues, from bullying and substance abuse to self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
“The issues are so consistent,” he told the Independent. “Every school seems to ask us to touch on all these things.”
Nash dealt with these issues and others during his show in the gym at William E. Hay on Wednesday, Feb. 11, when he and his band performed before a crowd of more than 900 middle school and high school students.
Formerly the lead singer of Live on Arrival, Nash and his band now perform hundreds of shows per year in schools, prisons, detention centres and at native reserves across the country.
They have reached a combined total of more than 985,000 people through the shows, which are performed at no charge.
Nash and his band depend on sponsorship to continue their efforts.
Their message to young people is to “make today count,” and to inspire them to discover their gifts and their potential, rather than focusing on their failings or struggles.
“Things don’t happen for a reason, but they happen with potential,” Nash explained. “What we try to do is share the stories of people finding their strength.”
At age 17, Nash, a native of small-town Manitoba, was in a head-on collision with a semi-truck, fracturing his skull. His heart stopped beating and he was pronounced dead at the scene, but somehow his pulse returned and he survived.
A long recovery process followed, during which Nash faced multiple physical and emotional challenges. Ultimately, he came through the ordeal with a new philosophy, but he said it wasn’t the accident that made the difference. Rather, it was his decision to stop living just for himself and to seek a new purpose.
He and his band, Live on Arrival, rose to fame in the mid-2000s with awards and multiple radio hits, but Nash later decided to leave his record contract behind and concentrate on sharing his story.
This was his second visit to Stettler, following a concert for the students of Stettler Middle School last year.
William E. Hay principal Norbert Baharally said Nash’s presentation was well received by the audience, which included students from Byemoor, Big Valley, Donalda and Erskine.
“There’s lots of things that I think they connect with,” he said. “I think he hit home with a lot of kids.”
Middle school principal Sharon Fischer echoed those sentiments, saying, “He’s got a very powerful message . . . I really do think he connected well with the kids.”
Canalta Hotels manager Brandi Page, whose company is one of Nash’s sponsors, was in the audience.
She said she has seen him on stage seven times.
Peter Barron, superintendent for Clearview Public Schools, was also in attendance, and mentioned the concert during the division board meeting the next day, noting how students were “moved and delighted” by the presentation.
Grade 12 student Katie Monaghan was invited to join Nash on stage, singing a duet on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Nash had asked the staff to select one of the students to sing with him, and he and Monaghan ran through the song shortly before the show.
She said she has performed with the Gracenotes choir and continues to write songs on her own, and added that she hopes to continue with music as she pursues her education.
“I’m glad it’s over because I get really nervous,” she said after the concert, adding that she enjoyed performing with the band and that Adele is her favourite singer.
Baharally acknowledged that the issues Nash spoke about, including suicide and self-harm, are present in Stettler as in other communities, saying, “It’s real . . . it happens.”
Nash said many youth struggle with feelings of insignificance, explaining that they want to lead lives that matter. Often, he added, they’re looking at the adults around them, “and they’re going, ‘There’s got to be more to life than this.’”
Following his performance at William E. Hay, Nash also visited schools in Coronation and Consort.
He said the size of the audience can vary greatly, from a handful of kids gathered in a prison to thousands in a high school gym.
Asked if schools have become more aware of the struggles their students face, Nash said that many have, while others have a long way to go.
“I think they’ve been forced to, because so many schools have been faced with tragedy,” he said.
In reaching out to kids, Nash said that being real with them has been essential:
“Kids can see that it’s genuine . . . People in general can smell B.S. a mile away.”
Nash said that he finds encouragement in hearing the stories of young people who overcome their challenges, and in passing them on to his audiences. After his visit to Stettler last week, he had another one to remember.
After his show, he and his bandmates hung around in the school gym for a couple of hours, talking to anyone who wanted to talk.
Nash said he was approached by one girl who said she saw his show in Stettler last time around and was encouraged to stop abusing drugs and harming herself.
“She’s crying . . . she said, ‘I saw you a year ago and I’ve been clean for a year,’” said Nash. “That means the world to me.”
For more info on Robb and his work, or to download a sampling of his songs, visit www.robbnash.com.