To a visitor, the garland of orange paper loops hanging in the mall may seem like a decoration, an art project or simply a show of school spirit. But what they don’t know is that each of the 1613 orange slips carries the name of a valued member of the NW community, and their commitment to making decisions that allow them to remain a part of it.
Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), founded in 1981, promotes healthy and safe choices in the lives of teenagers. While SADD originally focused on preventing drunk driving, the organization has since expanded to include initiatives such as combating underage drug use, spreading awareness of domestic abuse and fostering good mental health.
“SADD is meant to keep students on the right track, not getting involved with things that their peers might get involved with, like drugs or drinking,” SADD secretary Kiera McDonald said. “We want to keep students safe.”
The Chain of Life is just one of the many ways SADD’s NW chapter encourages safe choices throughout the school year. Members of SADD cut strips of orange paper at the first meeting of the year and deliver them to every seminar class, where each student writes their name on a link. Students assemble the chain, and the executive board hangs it up in the mall. The chain stays up throughout the year to remind the student body of their commitment to making smart decisions.
“I want the chain to symbolize the importance of every life at Northwest,” SADD president Erin Henton said. “If one link breaks, it affects our whole community. Just like the chain needs support to stay up, we all need to show support for one another to keep each other up. “
The Chain of Life was created following the death of then-senior Jimmy Kline in a drunk driving accident in 1991. If a student passes away, their link of the chain is cut. This has happened eight times since the creation of the chain. The most recent instance of this was January 2018, when two freshmen committed suicide. SADD replaced their orange links with purple ones, which will stay on the chain until the class of 2021 graduates.
“A few years ago, two students committed suicide, so we had to cut the chain,” McDonald said. “We replaced their orange links with purple ones, which will be there until the class of 2021 graduates.”
Since the start of the tradition, the chain has remained a symbol of unity among students.
“The Chain of Life, to me, represents how Northwest is connected,” McDonald said. “If one person falls down, we all fall down. We’re a team. Even if you don’t like the person next to you, they’re still a part of your team and you should have their back.”
Pressure is ever-present in the life of a young person: the pressure to succeed, pressure to fit in and pressure from peers all make daily appearances in a high schooler’s mind. The members of SADD hope that the chain inspires students to make informed and intelligent decisions in their lives, and not succumb to any pressure they might feel.
“The SADD point of view is that the decisions you make affect the student body as a whole,” McDonald said. “I feel like a lot of people think it doesn’t matter what they do because the person next to them is also doing it. But in reality, if something were to happen to you, it would affect everyone around you.”
Henton shares this same point of view, believing that the chain serves as a physical reminder of how much responsibility each member of the student body has.
“To me, the chain shows how we all play a role in each others’ lives,” Henton said. “We have to take care and be there for one another and the chain can help us visualize that we all are linked.”
For 28 years, the Chain of Life has been an integral part of SADD’s mission to maintain a healthy student body.
“When one link is broken, a part of everyone is lost,” the plaque hanging above the chain reads. “Keep Northwest strong…let the chain remain unbroken.”