Menlo Students Organize Concert to Raise Awareness for Mental Health


Woodside Priory Sophmore Audrey Paleczny performs an interpretive dance. Photo courtesy of Pat Johnson.

Rhea Nandal, Staff Writer

On April 3, Menlo students put together Menlo Voices for Hope, a benefit concert that aimed to raise awareness of mental health through the arts. The concert took place in the Spieker Center lasted throughout the afternoon.

The concert raised $25,000 for the Children’s Health Council, an organization that assists children and teenagers with mental health issues. According to their mission statement, they aim to raise awareness, build partnerships, reduce stigma and ensure that no one ever feels alone.
Junior Sean Nesamoney serves as the Founder and Executive Director of the organization. He came up with the idea to put on a concert in Aug. 2020, and he started planning towards the end of the 2020-21 school year. He wanted to showcase talent at Menlo while connecting the concert back to a topical theme — mental health. Nesamoney chose the topic of mental health due to its relevance during the pandemic. “It’s crazy that it took a worldwide pandemic for people to realize the impact mental health had, especially on teenagers’ lives,” Nesamoney said.
Nesamoney has furthered his interest in mental health by studying the science of the brain. “I’m very interested in learning about the neurological level behind mental illnesses and what can be done to better understand the brain pattern in neural networks,” Nesamoney said.
In order to fully plan his event, Nesamoney recruited various Menlo students interested in mental health and the arts. “I definitely wanted to put together a team of other students to help, because [the concert] could not be put on by just one person,” Nesamoney said.
The team met once every two weeks, and more recently, weekly to give each other updates. The majority of the work happened outside of meetings.
As Mental Health Education Advisor, senior Kate Richardson has been involved in various Menlo theater productions and is currently the president of Mental Health at Menlo. “Being the president of Mental Health at Menlo and the leader of wellness committee, I knew I could provide [the event] with some great resources” Richardson said.
Nesamoney involved teachers in the process as well. The main teacher advisor was Director of Community and Civic Engagement Ava Petrash. “She’s been a huge help in advising us through getting into student announcements, communicating with facilities [and] the auditorium booking,” Nesamoney said.
More recently, the team worked with Coordinator of Student Activities Frances Ferrell to advertise the event and Upper School Counselor Tracy Bianchi to edit speeches.
Student speakers such as senior Gretchen Witte, junior Malia Chavinson and freshman Agastya Brahmbhatt, spoke about their experience with mental health and the arts. “I feel like stories are the best way you can connect with an issue,” Nesamoney said.
Some faculty members such as science teacher Tanya Buxton, math and science teacher Elizabeth Young, English and history teacher Rebecca Gertmenian and science teacher Eugenia McCauley performed as well. “It was really important to our team to feature faculty performers because there are a lot of faculty on campus who are very engaged in the arts but don’t have opportunities to showcase it,” Nesamoney said.
The event also featured speakers outside of the Menlo community. CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki spoke about social media’s role in mental health. Director of Stanford University’s Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness Dr. Leanne Williams and Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine Dr. Lloyd B. Minor spoke virtually about the science behind mental health struggles. “We chose the speakers pretty intentionally and definitely wanted to see a lot of different perspectives on the issue,” Nesamoney said.
The team also reached out to other schools in the Bay Area. Castilleja, Woodside Priory and Crystal Springs all had students attend and participate.
To accompany the event, audience members were given a pamphlet that showcased visual art and creative writing. Richardson worked with the Literary Magazine club to pull together mental health-related poetry that was featured in the pamphlet. “I think we have some incredible poets in the community, and other than Lit Mag, they don’t really get a chance to showcase their full talents,” Richardson said. “I thought [the concert] would be a cool opportunity to do that.”
Nesamoney also emailed organizations and families to be sponsors. Some donations went towards sponsoring the event, while the majority went towards the Children’s Health Council.
“I really hope that this event [has] a legacy throughout the years. That’s definitely a really big goal of mine,” Nesamoney said. He added that the concert in the future doesn’t have to always be about mental health, and can be about any topic that people are passionate about.