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Staff Stories: Cheyanne Scholl

Cheyenne Scholl posing in Schurman Hall interior

Meet the founder of Cornell’s Out of the Darkness Walk

By Grace DePaull

For more information and to register for the walk, visit If you are interested in joining the planning committee or have any questions, please contact  

On her fiftieth day as a college student, Cheyanne Scholl received the worst phone call of her life. Instead of exploring the campus and community, attending athletic events or delving into new academics and late-night study sessions, Scholl found herself struggling to cope with a sudden loss. One of her good friends, Jack, had died by suicide.

“I was a mess,” Scholl said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was a very high achieving student, so I didn’t think I was allowed to stop to grieve or process all that I was going through.”

For Scholl, she did not know where to turn and where there was a safe space to discuss the challenges she was experiencing. It wasn’t until months later, when she was invited to attend her first Out of the Darkness Walk with Jack’s mother at Iowa State University, where Jack had been attending college, that she finally felt comfortable addressing everything she was experiencing.

“It was such a life-changing experience. I had never been in a space before where I could openly talk about my mental health,” Scholl said.

At that moment, Scholl decided she would start her own Out of the Darkness Walk at Central College in Pella, Iowa, where she was an undergraduate student. In 2018, she brought the walk to her campus, where 250 students and community members gathered, raising over $8,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and promoting lifesaving mental health resources in the small community. Since then, Scholl has participated in numerous walks nationwide, helped raise over $30,000 for AFSP and is the founder and chairperson of Cornell University’s Out of the Darkness Walk.

Engaging in this life-changing work is not out of the ordinary for Scholl. As a laboratory technician at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she spends the workday trying to cure canine osteosarcoma (bone cancer in dogs). Scholl can often be found in her lab, growing cell lines in petri dishes and experimenting with radiation therapy. And for nine months out of the year, Scholl’s responsibilities expand as she becomes busy coordinating and collaborating with committee members to make Cornell’s Out of the Darkness Walk come to life.

Out of the Darkness Community Walks began in 2004 as part of the AFSP’s efforts to increase awareness of suicide and mental health challenges. The walks are held every year in hundreds of cities and campuses across the United States, giving participants the opportunity and courage to open up about their connection to the cause and create a culture that prioritizes mental health and wellbeing. The movement raises money for research and educational opportunities to help prevent suicide and provide a safe outlet for survivors. Campus walks did not begin until 2010 and are still growing to the level of the community walks but are making a difference on college campuses.

“This campus needed something, and I thought if anyone’s going to do it, why not me? I can start this walk and really make a difference,” said Scholl.

Upon arriving at Cornell, Scholl saw the perfect opportunity to organize another walk and address a tragic reality that continues to haunt the university and its community.

“When you look at the Wikipedia page for Cornell, there is an entire paragraph written on mental health and suicide at the university,” Scholl explained. “It’s a tremendously sad statistic. I really care about college students and giving them access to mental health resources. That’s why this event is so important because we are sending a message to the community that suicide prevention and mental health deserve to be talked about. We're starting conversations by not sitting around and letting these statistics and issues persist. We want to make a difference.”

This year, Cornell is hosting its second Out of the Darkness Walk, and all are encouraged to attend the two-mile walk that will begin at Barton Hall on Sunday, April 14 at 11:00 a.m. Participants can either walk in-person or virtually, and those at the event can expect a variety of treats and activities, such as a selfie station, positive sticky-note wall, raffle contest and tabling from several campus and community resources involved in mental and physical health. Last year, the walk raised around $11,600 for AFSP; this year, Scholl and her committee hope to raise $20,000.

“I’ve really enjoyed all the connections I get to make across campus,” Scholl said. “This year, we're working really hard to bring in folks who directly work in mental health at the university to increase and improve our communication efforts at Cornell. We want to help promote mental health more widely and uniformly across campus.”

Not only has Scholl been instrumental in the success of Cornell’s walk, but she is also active in the local community. As a board member of the AFSP Greater Central New York chapter, Scholl is helping increase conversations about mental health throughout the entire region.

“When I started volunteering with AFSP, I was only 19 years old,” Scholl said. “I was such a shy college student that now I don't even recognize her anymore. I have grown so much as a leader and have become confident in myself and the knowledge I can share with others. The number of times someone's come up to me at an event and thanked me for what I’ve done has been so impactful.”

She recalls her younger self and the deep sadness and confusion she felt upon losing her friend Jack and not knowing where and how to receive help. Scholl hopes that participants know they’re not alone.

“So much of my experience comes from when I was a freshman in college, and I didn't know where to go for support,” Scholl said. “So, I really enjoy the opportunity to provide that information to current students, staff, faculty and everyone in between. The walk allows people to open up, and the more we talk about mental health, the more we can make a difference. I really hope this event lets people know there’s a big community out there rooting for them and people who want them to succeed. I hope when there is someone in Jack’s shoes, they are informed and know where to go for help.”

Scholl’s passion for the walk is taking her to new heights within the organization, as she is actively working toward becoming an area director one day to help keep the conversation going and create a support system for those affected by suicide.

“Talk to your friends, family and kids,” Scholl encouraged. “Mental health doesn’t affect just one specific age group. It affects everyone, and chances are, almost everyone in the world has experienced a loss to suicide in one way or another. It’s important to create a space for these conversations.”