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Education Reporter

Star of Suicide Play Takes Own Life
KEENE, NH - A 17-year-old high school junior about to take the lead role in his school play this spring instead took his own life. The play, Ordinary People, is a depressing drama about a suicidal teen's struggles to overcome guilt following his brother's accidental death. The story mirrored reality for Gregory Kochman, whose older brother, Eric, committed suicide in 1999, also at the age of 17.

Gregory was an athlete, a member of the Monadnock Regional High School soccer and track teams. Academically, he ranked third in his class and had applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was planning to take an advanced studies program this summer at St. Paul's preparatory school in Concord, New Hampshire. According to friends and school officials, there were no warning signs that he might kill himself.

After Gregory's death, his father, David Kochman, blamed the school play. He told the Boston Globe in a May 9 interview that, when he heard about his son's involvement in Ordinary People, he "thought it was a sick joke," and "I should have followed my gut instinct and stopped it." Kochman said Gregory's drama coach, as well as his therapist, thought that doing the play would be therapeutic because it allowed the boy to act out some of his feelings.

This is hardly the first time that death and suicide themes in school curricula and activities have been associated with student deaths and suicide attempts. A rash of teen suicides in the late 1980s in Colorado became the subject of a 1990 exposé on death education by ABC-TV's 20/20. The story was told through the eyes of student Tara Becker, who described her own temptation to commit suicide after taking death education classes. She confided that, although she personally hadn't been "brave enough" to go through with it, "the things we learned in class taught us how to be brave enough to face death." (See Education Reporter, July 1999.)

During the 11 years since 1990, numerous reports from parents have indicated that death education, usually integrated into other courses, continues to thrive in America's schools, and that extracurricular activities, including videos, books, plays, and assemblies, often feature death and suicide themes.

David Kochman says he believes that everyone associated with his younger son "tried to do the right thing" and he doesn't blame anyone for Gregory's death.

Gregory and his brother, Eric, lived with their father after their parents' divorce in 1997. Kochman told the Boston Globe that his sons were "unbelievably close." In Ordinary People, the suicidal surviving son is pushed aside by a cold, emotionally detached mother who is determined to go on with her own life. A sympathetic father and a psychiatrist help the fictional character work through his grief and guilt.

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