April 30, 2014 Updated: April 30, 2014 at 8:46 am
This is the tenth of 20 profiles about The Gazette's Best and Brightest Class of 2014.
When Pine Creek High School lost a freshman to suicide last year, Tabitha Kalin reached out to other students.
"No one can prepare for these situations," she said. "The best you can do is manage, catch the broken pieces and hope to put them back together."
She'd been there before - her longtime friend and classmate had killed himself the previous year.
"That was so tough. I didn't know how to handle it," she said of her friend's death. "My other friends who knew him helped me. We knew he would live on through our memories of him."
After the freshman died, Kalin went to the counseling center to check on a group of other students, remembering how she felt when she lost her friend.
"It was hard to see them break down," she said. "These were freshmen, full of life, and they were just sitting there, staring blankly at each other."
Kalin stayed with the students for hours, comforting them and telling them about when she lost her friend. "As they processed their loss and sadness, it was evident to our entire counseling team that Tabitha was the kind of compassionate leader who makes a difference in the lives of others," said Stephanie Cornelio, the school's college and career counselor.
The school lost another student to suicide this year, as well as a former student who graduated from the school.
"All of these losses may have been prevented if society knew more about the genetics behind psychological disorders," said Kalin, 18. "The grief and loss has fueled my desire to study the genetics behind psychological and other fatal disorders in hope to help cure them rather than just treating the symptoms."
Kalin cited studies that say one in five Americans suffers from a mental illness and one out of every 10 suffers from a genetic disorder.
"While the people I have lost to psychological disorders are no longer with me," she said, "I carry a promise to them that I will help the world reach the day where families are no longer torn apart by incurable psychological and genetic disorders."
PINE CREEK HIGH SCHOOL
Parents: Jeff and Laurel Kalin
College plans: Colorado School of Mines
Other: Valedictorian; Boettcher Scholarship; Future Business Leaders of America State finalist
qualifier, president; Tri-Music Honor Society; National English Honor Society; FIRST Robotics Denver Regional Competition finalist/2nd place