Celebrating the 2021 UC Young New Zealander of the Year

Congratulations to Jazz Thornton, an impressive young New Zealander who passionately advocates for mental health nationally, and around the world. After overcoming many personal battles of her own, Jazz has shown us just how life can turn around for the best.

The 2021 University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Award winner, mental health activist Jazz Thornton, pictured with UC Assistant Vice-Chancellor Dr Darryn Russell who presented her with the award in Auckland on 31 March 2021.

In Ngāi Tahu history, as with other hapū and iwi, leadership was not defined by age. Some of our rangatira who are revered in their actions, were under the age of 30! The impressive mahi of the nominees of this award parallel the attributes of our tūpuna. The ability to create change isn’t something limited to those more senior, it’s about kaha [strength], vision, passion and fortitude that is inherent in young people as they step up and into leadership. Young people are not just the future of Aotearoa, they are here now and leading us today.

After abuse, depression, hospital stays and multiple suicide attempts characterised her teenage years, Jazz Thornton has truly turned her life around to become a mental health activist who has written two books and produced multiple films. Shortly after her final suicide attempt, when Jazz says she decided to ‘stop surviving and start fighting’, she enrolled in South Seas Film and Television School to learn how to tell the stories of people like her. After only a few months she produced short film Dear Suicidal Me, which features real people reading their suicide notes followed by the reasons they feel lucky to be alive. The film had more than 80 million views in the first 48 hours after it was posted online. In 2014, Jazz and Genevieve Mora created Voices of Hope, a suicide prevention organisation that creates media content such as videos, podcasts, and blogs to provide support for those struggling with mental illness. Jazz has also released Jessica’s Tree, a web series that follows the final 24 hours of the life of her friend Jessica, who died of suicide in 2015. In 2020, New Zealand director Leanne Pooley released The Girl on the Bridge, a documentary about the production of Jessica’s Tree. Most recently, Jazz received the Commonwealth Points of Light award from Her Majesty the Queen for her work in mental health advocacy. She also volunteers at adolescent psychiatric wards and gives talks in schools on the importance of mental health.

For the University of Canterbury, our business is about contributing to the future of Aotearoa, and recognising the incredible achievements of each young New Zealander nominated for the 2021 University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Award is a privilege. Each nominee has a long and successful road ahead in their journey, as they contribute to and create a better future for our society.

He aha to mahi o te tāina? He Rōnaki i ngā mate o te tuākana.

What must the younger generation do? Make good the wrongs of those they follow.