Glenbrook North’s Abby Schyman fights to raise mental health awareness in Dylan Buckner’s memory

Abby Schyman knew Dylan Buckner and wants people to understand how he lived, not just how he died.

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Glenbrook North graduate Abby Schyman, with BrEpic Communications CEO Justin Breen (left) and Chris Buckner, won the inaugural BrEpic Leadership Award provided by the Dylan Buckner Foundation.

Glenbrook North graduate Abby Schyman, with BrEpic Communications CEO Justin Breen (left) and Chris Buckner, won the inaugural BrEpic Leadership Award provided by the Dylan Buckner Foundation.

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Abby Schyman knew Dylan Buckner and wants people to understand how he lived, not just how he died.

‘‘Dylan was just the sweetest kid,’’ said Schyman, who graduated from Glenbrook North this year and is heading to Florida to attend the University of Miami in the fall. ‘‘He always made everyone feel important and special. From the first time I interacted with him, he was always so kind.’’

Buckner, a star quarterback for the Spartans who had 13 scholarship offers, took his own life Jan. 7, 2021. He was 18.

Out of that tragedy came the Dylan Buckner Foundation, which lists two primary goals on its website: to raise awareness of and destigmatize mental illness and to help fund alternatives to traditional pharmaceutical treatments.

The foundation has set up a scholarship program to award two $10,000 grants each year to Glenbrook North seniors, an initiative that launched last year. This year, the foundation partnered with BrEpic Communications CEO Justin Breen to award another $1,000 scholarship to a Glenbrook North senior who is a champion for mental health and exemplifies Buckner’s leadership qualities.

Schyman, a cross-country runner for the Spartans, is the inaugural winner of that award for her essay on the question: ‘‘What Does Leadership Mean to You?’’

She said the assignment resonated with her.

‘‘I think it’s important to know that while Dylan was struggling with his mental health, he was also a natural-born leader,’’ Schyman said. ‘‘He was a star.’’

Breen had noticed similar qualities while watching Glenbrook North games as a fan. After Buckner’s death, Breen reached out to Buckner’s father, Chris.

‘‘He was helpful, he was kind, we had a good conversation,’’ Chris Buckner said.

Breen suggested partnering on the leadership award in Dylan’s memory.

Schyman noted in her essay that leadership in her case didn’t necessarily mean being at the front of the Spartans’ pack.

In fact, she noted: ‘‘I have never been the fastest runner or the most athletic member of the team. If anything, I am below average, and yet I quickly learned that there was more to cross-country than just the speed of the runners. While I continued to push myself to gain more speed . . . I also began to emphasize my strengths of being a motivator for my teammates.’’

The late Dylan Buckner (7) shares a moment with his Glenbrook North football teammates.

The late Dylan Buckner (7) shares a moment with his Glenbrook North football teammates.

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At the same time, Schyman said: ‘‘I have struggled with my mental health, too.’’

Her willingness to open up about that is a sign of hope for Chris Buckner.

‘‘We’re trying to break this stigma, so people are talking about mental illness,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve noticed what I think is a real change in mental-health [awareness] at the school. To the extent talking more about Dylan can further those conversations, those types of positive changes — [that’s the reason for] establishing a foundation.’’

Another focus, Chris Buckner said, is to provide more practical support for teens dealing with depression. That includes identifying drug regimens that can be beneficial and highlighting the need for more inpatient treatment options.

While those efforts continue, Schyman said she will keep listening and continuing her advocacy.

‘‘My friends, people are starting to talk about [mental health] more,’’ she said. ‘‘People are coming out as supporting others and being as much of a community as possible.’’

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