Why Are We Writing About Madison Holleran? [Updated]

Penn student, a track star, committed suicide on Friday.

[Updated 7:37 pm] 

Joel Mathis writes: I’d like to offer my sincere apologies to the family and friends of Madison Holleran. The short post below was not intended as a slur on her, her character, or her community, but was an attempt to sort out why her suicide—which the media ordinarily treats as a private act—had become so public. My intent was to express condolences while still getting at that issue; instead, this post has been widely read in a way I did not intend. As the writer—a person whose job it is to communicate with clarity—I accept fault, and lament the pain I have caused. My well wishes to all who grieve for Ms. Holleran.

[Original 2:20 pm] We don’t write about suicides very often — not at Philly Mag, and not at very many outlets. There are exceptions to this every now and again — if the suicide was spectacular in some fashion (and sorry about the wording, but let’s be honest) or if the dead person was somehow very well known.

So we’re not sure why the suicide of Penn student Madison Holleran has drawn quite as much gawking attention as it has, especially outside of Philly: Papers in New York and Texas have carried the news, even while ignoring the suicides that must surround them every day. She was a Penn student and an athlete — on the track and field team — so not a household name. Her method of death — jumping from a parking garage at 15th and Spruce — is gruesome. Yet it is sadly not uncommon.

Maybe everyone is writing about Madison Holleran because, well, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, they can. She left behind a social media trail. She left behind photos. Or maybe we’re doing it because she appeared to be a “bright, beautiful girl,” as she was described in the Philly Daily News.

All of the writing, however, has shed very little light on what can only be described as an incredibly sad turn of events. So: We hereby note Holleran’s passing. We offer heartfelt condolences to family and friends. And we’ll just maybe shut up about this for now and let her friends and family grieve.


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  • Aimee

    As a journalist myself, I find this opinion piece to be cruel and insensitive. That third-to-last sentence (“We hereby…”) is disgusting. We should be writing about Madison. We should be writing about her life and her achievements, to commemorate the life of a beautiful young woman gone too soon – which her classmate so beautifully does in one of the comments below. But it’s a missed opportunity for what I presume is a reputable news organization to highlight the tragedy of depression. Do a little reading about this poor girl and her struggles. Her story is unfortunately not unique. And the next time you feel like “noting” the passing of another individual, keep your nastiness in check and post a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org). That’s a far better way to memorialize this lovely girl than this rude and insensitive “article.”

    • Michelle

      Aimee – I can not agree with you more. This was an insensitive piece and definitely not necessary. Thank you for your well written comment.

    • Penn track alum

      As an alum of the University of Pennsylvania track team myself, I do not find this piece insensitive, although I do think it touches on the larger issue of whether or not to publicize (or maybe “sensationalize”) suicide. More important, there is absolutely no reason to do a single thing you suggested, Aimee. Joel Mathis should have further articulated that the very act of commemorating, celebrating, or heavily publicizing suicide actually has extremely negative consequences on “vulnerable individuals” (to quote the National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/recommendations-for-reporting-on-suicide.shtml). Going to such an extent, however, is paradoxical, as those very intentions to curtail the sensationalism of suicide are undermined by the very publishing of an article that references someone’s suicide. For example, someone reading an article that celebrates her death who is considering suicide would think (read: illogically) along the lines of “Hmm she seems like she had everything (I mean look at how well this article celebrated her life!!)…I don’t even have one tenth of what she had, so obviously I should kill myself too!” Therefore, the only way to avoid such a misreading is to stop writing about Madison Holleran, as Mathis has suggested.

    • God Bless Madison

      “We hereby…” -only a dimented, callous maker could think, let alone publicly write, in such a way

    • John Doe

      So will you support pieces written about every single suicide? Everyone is beautiful in their own way and suicides are definitely gone too soon. Why not admit that the only reason the media latched onto this story is because she was a pretty white girl?

  • Penn Senior

    Unfortunately Madison’s story is not unique, but as a student at Penn and diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, it really hits close to home. I am devastated for Madison and her family. I know how stressful it can be here, sometimes I felt like I was at the end of my rope even though everything was fine on the outside. But if you really make the effort to seek out help, you can get better. I am now taking a new medication that makes me feel calmer and more relaxed than I have felt in years. Therapy before me has given me the courage to understand myself and make changes in my life.
    I wish I could have met Madison and have said something to let her know that this was not the way things should have to end.

    • jane

      I am glad to hear you are feeling better. A day at a time!

    • Doug

      I wish there was a way that you could tell me what medication you are having success with. I am struggling with similar issues.

    • Adrienne

      As Penn alum, I struggled with the same issues as you. So glad that you are working through it. I wish you all the best!

    • Dana

      I am a former student from one of the “Top Schools”. I definitely know how you are feeling. I was surrounded by very sad and depressed classmates – we would lose 3 or 4 students to suicide every year – just in my department alone! I feel like I can relate very much to Madison because no one seemed to know just how “depressed” she was. I say “depressed” because no one would believe or take me seriously when I said I was in so much pain – my smile and humor disguised it. I was always optimistic and tried to make those around me feel happy. This is just what my personality was – I didn’t want to feel suicidal – it wasn’t like me.

      I went to the school counselors (who frankly seemed oblivious as to why so many students were so depressed), I went to a private counsellor – all 3 of the people I saw recommended anxiety medication (which I refused) In the end I was failed out of school 3 times!

      I just want to say that now that I’m out of school I can look back with a clear mind and see what was going on. Getting a University education is not meant to destroy you. Education is supposed to build you up and give you skills, knowledge, and experience. It should be a good experience. It should be challenging and those challenges will help you grow. Not so long ago I felt like my school had destroyed me. We were constantly told by professors and staff: “You don’t understand because you are stupid” , “You are just slower than most people”, “You are so unintelligent and naive you don’t even know what you don’t know”, and finally – “You are nothing with out a degree from here”. I guess after hearing this all day everyday for 3 years it really got into my mind and I believed it – I even started talking like that! As did so many of my friends and classmates.

      Now I finally see how wrong the University was. For those of you reading this who are still in school – I wish you could take a moment to step back and really take a look at what is going on around you. Is your University setting you up to fail? (mine sure did) Are they putting you in intentionally stressful situations? Is this helping you at all? If you can take a step back to look at it – how it is all a game -and that you don’t have to play anymore. Or I should say – play the game – but don’t let yourself be a pawn. You can gain control of this. Don’t believe it when others put you down – they are lying to you.

      The other thing I realized was that I was in such a bubble. “You’re nothing without a degree from here” turned out to be such a lie. I don’t have a degree from there and I’m still doing everything I would have done if I had gotten it. It hasn’t held me back at all. Frankly, I’m probably doing better than I would have done had I had 2 more years there. It would have completely destroyed my confidence to the point where – I don’t know if I could have bounced back. I don’t know if I would even be here.

      Another thing – I forgot that as a student you are a paying customer. Universities are still businesses and without you they have nothing. They need to treat their students better and invest in them. Insist on getting your money’s worth. A trick – complaining to the school only gets you so far. What you need to do is go to their “boss” – find the organization that grants them their accreditation and tell them that you are not satisfied with your education.

      Honestly, hearing Madison’s story has really helped me to heal in a way. She had so much going for her – and it seems like UPenn convinced her that she had nothing. I think she shows all of us struggling at school – it isn’t you. You are perfect and bright. It also shows that making school so hard is not beneficial. They are not “weeding out” the “weaker candidates” (the reason given to me by my school). They are actually doing the opposite – destroying some of their brightest students. Education should be challenging – with a workload that builds up their students.

    • greg

      Thank you for writing what you wrote Penn Senior. made me feel that I’m not alone. RIT GRAD. Army Vet

  • no name real or made up

    Maybe journalism as a whole should reverse itself and the classic we don’t report suicides rule. The reason given is that the reporting may influence others to kill themselves. I doubt someone will kill themself just because they read or watched a report on how someone else did. Instead, just maybe, reporting on depression and suicide may do the opposite and save someone reading or watching a story on it. A Penn football player who also seemed to have it all took his life a few years ago. That suicide also got coverage. Maybe because the pretty popular smart athletes who are the stars of their schools are the last ones people would expect to do this. Its the introvert awkward bad skin not many friends types that most assume have more reason to want to die. No doubt many looking at Maddie’s pictures are thinking why such a beautiful person with a bright future and so many friends and loving family could even have a moment of darkness deep inside when so much on the outside looks like the life most would love to have. Maybe someone should try and find out and report how a demon of despair lurks in so many in all walks of life. From so many soldiers with post traumatic stress killing themselves in record numbers to those battling everyday economic, employment, and health stresses where in moments of solitude, fantasy thoughts don’t involve winning the lottery or relaxing getaway vacation, but the permanent getaway from it all…..how would I do it, could I do it, or what is gonna be the final nudge that pushes me off a ledge too.

    • anonymous

      This is what I’ve wanted to say while reading through these comments. Please repost on the Daily Mail and other places where this story has been published.

  • naomi

    This is not surprising, unfortunately. Kids today are pushed to the point of no return, it’s all about competition. Kids don’t enjoy themselves anymore. It’s what our pathetic society has become. Penn is an elitist school, and I will just leave it at that. “Normal” kids do not go to Penn. It is a dog eat dog world, and we have to find another definition of “success” for our younger generation. Extremely sad, but certainly not surprising. Her entire life was a competition, her grades, her athletic ability, her beauty, enough already. Even the most loving and supportive parents can’t protect their child from the pressure of today’s society. She was caught up in the big game, the perpetual longing for unattainable, impossible perfection.

    • Big Bopper

      Are you a minority? It seems that this growing demographic seeks mediocrity and applauds “Cs”. That’s what’s wrong with this country!

      • naomi

        If a white, middle class, college educated, republican, existentialist woman is a minority, then “yes” I am. I am a healthcare professional and it REALLY helps to put things into perspective.

        • naomi

          you misunderstand, I do not applaud mediocrity, I applaud creativity and imagination

      • naomi

        That is kind of a racist comment, btw.

  • naomi

    We should NOT have to take antidepressants, or ANY medication, just to cope with school. Something is terribly wrong with the path of one’s life, if they must resort to pharmaceuticals. Antidepressants are way overprescribed in the country, and present more of a risk than a benefit to many people.

    • Dory

      As a person who has suffered from mental illness throughout my life, I cannot disagree more with this post. Should a diabetic be expected to cope with his or her disease without insulin? Of course not – this person suffers from a physical ailment and cannot lead a normal life without pharmaceuticals. The fact that people like you believe that there is “something terribly wrong with the path of one’s life” if he or she seeks medical treatment for a psychological disease is part of the reason why people like Madison are reluctant to get help

      • naomi

        I am not minimizing true, pathological mental illness. I really do not believe that all people who are prescribed antidepressants are actually mentally ill. Maybe Madison simply wasn’t happy being at Penn, she hated it and maybe, just maybe, she wanted a break from the constant performing. Just to relax for once in her life. She was 19 years old!!! That is all, possibly no mental illness? Not all people who kill themselves are mentally ill.

        • Penn Senior

          The point that most of these articles are trying to make is that Madison’s inner perception of her world that convinced her to end her life is so drastically different from the beautiful and lively girl people saw her as. That is mental illness, even if there is no specific name for it.

        • shana

          Actually, 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. You don’t jump off a building because you want to relax. It’s sad that so many people are uneducated and feed into the stigma of suicide and mental illness.

  • naomi

    Our society is badly broken, it is a travesty. I have a baby boy, and am trying to figure out how to shield him from this “all or nothing” mindset.

    • AugustineThomas

      Take him to the Catholic Church.. Secularists will teach him how to be miserable if he’s not president.. The Church will teach him that he is a child of God and that will make him happy enough to be far less likely to commit suicide. (There aren’t many people living in this hellish, “modern” wasteland who haven’t considered suicide if they’re being truthful–Christ, our Lord is the only real weapon of defense against Satan’s logic that it makes more sense to murder yourself than face another day of the evil of society.)

      Atheists have the highest suicide rates (you can look that up–dozens and dozens of studies have confirmed it. Japan, the most atheistic country in the world also has the highest suicide rate by far).

      • naomi

        Oh, sure, AugustineThomas, proselytizing always helps. Because we all know how Catholics are so kind, enlightened and full of integrity, Right?? SMH

        • no one

          Why does everyone think picking on the Catholics is ok?

          • naomi

            religious zealots need to keep to themselves

          • AugustineThomas

            Right.. Like the sexual perverts who abort all the poor black children.

            Religious zealots like the welfare leaders who have brainwashed you into abusing your own child by sending him to public school to watch pornography in “health class”.

            I’m serious Naomi.. Your child is going to end up like every other African American secularist if you’re not careful: dead, in jail or with an STD.

            Leftist African Americans have the worst rates of social indicators in the world. Christian African Americans have the best.

          • naomi

            I am as white as snow, middle class, highly educated, married, thinking of sending my child to a Quaker School, I just have to go back to work full time to afford it. I have earned everything I have

          • AugustineThomas

            White people who don’t attend church have as bad social stats as anyone.

            You may be an exception (I doubt it), but if you’re truly afraid for your child, I promise you secularism is where Satan is.

            There are people who go to church who are bad, but the social stats don’t lie: those who regularly attend church have the lowest rates of STDs and crime and the highest rates of education, happiness and intact families.

          • naomi

            Careful with your assumptions, bigot

          • AugustineThomas

            You’re the bigot. “I’m white as snow” as if that’s something to brag about pastey face!

            The pertinent fact is whether or not one attends church.

            “White people” (which I am not one), who don’t attend church have as bad social stats as anyone.

            They’re more likely to have STDs and be uneducated. Every possible positive social stat is higher for those who regularly attend church than for those who don’t.

            I never tried to proselytize you psycho.. I made a wise suggestion and it drove you nuts because it penetrated your cocoon of leftist closed-mindedness.

            All I’m saying is LOOK IT UP! Stop trying to be a demagogue and LOOK AT THE STUDIES THAT SHOW YOUR CHILD WILL BE HEALTHIER IF YOU GO TO CHURCH WITH HER!

          • naomi

            it’s a simile “white as snow” you may be as “tan as an old leather shoe” or something along those lines or a metaphor ” “your hair is a grease slick”

          • AugustineThomas

            Look at you, with your white trash stupidity.

            You can’t even hide your pathetic little attempt to suggest that white is pure and beautiful and tan is old and leathery.

            How bout this.. White as that scum on the toilet? That’s what I bet your skin looks like, if it’s as ugly as your insides seem to be.

            I’m more convinced than ever that your child will be much better off if mom gives up the banal secularist attitude. (I think part of the problem is that you’re stupid and you think you’re supposed to be smarter than me becausre you’re white. Do you collect welfare and then talk about how the “coloreds” are killing our society?)

          • naomi

            you need help, really, grow up…..You were criticizing black people, now just because I said my skin is as white as snow, I am racist? You are mentally ill, sir or madame

          • AugustineThomas

            I was not criticizing black people. You’re incapable of intelligent discussion.

            I was obviously criticizing godlessness and lack of Christianity.

            All this started because you can’t handle the truth. You remind me of my mom.. She loved to fantasize about how great I was going to be but she raised me in immoral secularism becuase, like you, she was immune to the facts.

            You need to get help before you abuse and make your child miserable by “shielding” her from the morality of Christians.. Secularist people have the highest rates of STDs, the highest rates of misery, the highest rates of suicide, and every other negative indicator.. If you want that for your child, you’re the one who needs help, you’re the one who should be locked up.

          • naomi

            Nope, never had an STD. Shocking. I am Presbyterian also, so according to your beliefs, I will go to hell, right?

          • AugustineThomas

            Heresy did lead to the present apostasy which has resulted in the murder of hundreds of millions of innocent children. Does that even bother you?

            Do you understand statistics? It doesn’t matter if you’re the exception to the rule. Some people won’t die from doing cocaine every day. Does that mean you should have your child do cocaine every day?

            I think your salvation is none of my business. I believe Christ our Lord will come to judge the living and the dead.

          • naomi

            How many children have to be molested before the Catholics finally cal it quits? Priesthood is unnatural, many, not al priests belong in mental institutions. BTW why did you assume that I was an African American woman? Just curious?

          • AugustineThomas

            Presbyterians and other heretical Christians have higher rates of child sexual abuse than Catholics. Secularists have the highest rates of all.

            Your belief system would be impossible without the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church built modernity, despite the Protestant myths. Erasmus developed secularism long before Luther started trying to murder Jews for not converting to his heresy.

            You seem uneducated and secularist African Americans in this country have been enslaved by leftists and thus are uneducated. (Christian African Americans always sound eloquent and intelligent and you can tell by their writing.) Poor white people are now just the same. Even those who identify as Christian, like yourself, usually live secularist and thus end up more and more like barbarians..

            What schools did you go to? Why don’t you see any of these things yourself? Have you ever had an original thought or do you just take whatever your leftist teachers tell you as gospel on good faith?

          • naomi

            Well, I was poor growing up, not on welfare. My father worked in a factory. I went to good public schools in NY and went to SUNY and became a healthcare professional.

          • AugustineThomas

            Well I’m sorry for any offense.

            God bless you and your child. I wish you and your whole family the best!

          • John Paul II

            God hates you AugTho. I’m sorry but He really does. He made you mentally ill and delusional. Poor you. The only people I know who have killed themselves were Catholic – because a Priest raped him. Catholic Priests are everywhere raping little boys and that is why they have a much higher suicide rate.

          • AugustineThomas

            I’m truly sorry for the horror in your life.

            The Church is a place for sinners and I’m sorry that there are sinners there.. I truly am like you and wish deeply that we were all perfect and without sin right now!

            However, the Church is, by far, the best mitigator of man’s evil. People who regularly attend church have the lowest rates of suicide and child sexual abuse.

            Please don’t try to speak for God.. He loves all of us and deeply desires that we leave behind our sinful ways! (I’m sorry if I offended.. I’m a broken man and I often say stupid things.)

          • Yotto Otto

            I was with you until you told her to raise her child Catholic. Hate to be the one to break this to you, but Catholicism is NOT true Bible-based Christianity. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon warned of in the Book of Revelation. But don’t take MY word for it. Check out the following website to see the irrefutable evidence for yourself: http://www.jesuits.webs.com

          • AugustineThomas

            Oh give it a rest you insufferable heretic.

            Your heresy would be impossible without the orthodoxy of the Church.

            The Church built modernity despite the never ending heresies of your Protestant churches.. Every man is an island with his own one-man church on it in Protestantism. You guys protest the Church, then you protest each other, then the shards of that church protest each other again until nothing is left.

            “I say to you, you are Petros, and on this rock I will build my Church.”

            Christ said he would build his Church, not his churches.

            There is no debate over which is the Church. There are more Catholics than all the diverse heretics and the Church is stronger than ever. (Still, I love heretics! They prepare people for Christ if nothing else!)

          • AugustineThomas

            And I bet you LOVE Jay Z, the guy who brags about “pimpin”.. But you call me a religious zealot for making a suggestion to you that is scientifically proven to be more healthy for your child than having him listen to drug addict, pervert wannabe gangsters or immoral leftist professors and teachers in the public “school” brainwashing system.

          • naomi

            No, I am more into Vaughn Williams “The Lark Ascending”

          • AugustineThomas

            All I’m trying to tell you is to look at social science.

            People who regularly attend church have the best social stats. Those who do not have the worst.

        • AugustineThomas

          Catholics were the first to let African Americans worship together with whites in a church in this country.

          Catholics give more charity to African Americans than any other group in history.

          Black children who go to Catholic school have far better rates of education, happiness and intact families than those who become house slaves in the secularist welfare system.

          Why do blacks love the leftists and their government programs no matter how much they abuse them but hate the religious people who help them?

      • John Doe

        A young boy around a Catholic priest? Talk about a cause for suicide..

        • AugustineThomas

          We’ve heard this line before Satan.

          Please stop. I don’t want to hear your ignorant anti-Catholic bigotry.

          I’m interested in real arguments, based on facts–like that secularists such as yourself abuse far more children than those who regularly attend church.

          • John Doe

            And do secularists regularly protect those abusers by moving them to new positions, thereby giving them access to new victims as well as making it much more difficult for the victims to achieve any sense of justice?

          • AugustineThomas

            YES! And at far, FAR higher rates than Catholics ever did even at their worst.

            Do you actually do any real research or just eat whatever leftists feed you?

  • Kristin

    what a jerk you are. SO insensitive

  • jane

    Unbelievable. I did not know Madison, but I am livid at the way you have written about her passing as if it were an annoyance to you. There is coverage in NY because she’s from northern new jersey. Even with this ‘apology’ at the top, it makes you sound like an insensitive person.

    As someone suggested, a link to suicide prevention would have been a better way to write about this and should be included in your ‘update’.

  • AugustineThomas

    You’re right–we’re humans and we love beautiful people so we make too big of a fuss when they have a tragedy and forget the people who are less physically attractive.

    If we’re being adults though, they’re all horrible tragedies and we can use this horrific event to remember all of the unfortunate souls who feel so trapped that they have to commit such a heinous act against themselves.

    God bless her family! Madison Holleran, RIP!

    In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem!

  • naomi

    Madison is the epitome of everything that is wrong with our young-ish generation. Sorry, but it is a narcissistic mindset. It is a mindset that has to change.

    • Steven


      This young woman committed at least 20-25 hours at her sport every week, and then had to do all the school work at Penn too. IVYS ARE D1.
      Maybe a little understanding about what she was trying to do.
      Let’s see you play a D1 sport and keep up with all that homework.
      You wouldn’t even have the time to write your comments…..

      • naomi

        That was her choice, if she couldn’t handle it, she could have chosen to do something easier or more enjoyable. She wasn’t imprisoned. It’s really not rocket science.

        • Giselle

          You really are a bitter, miserable and ignorant person. I agree with the other respondent that you are an annoying pest who adds zero insight or considered thought to this discussion.

          • Naomi

            Well, yes maybe I am bitter and miserable to a point, but I am realistic. I don’t know what kind of background you come from or how old you are, but I look at Madison Holleran and think about how many kids would have given anything to be in her position. Yes, I realize she was depressed, but to me it just seems like very upper class issues. We no longer live in the land of opportunity, my kids will probably never be able to go to an Ivy League school, no matter how smart they are. I cannot afford to pay for the SAT prep classes, yet I am not poor enough for financial aid. These are my own issues, but I sense that Madison lived a very comfortable life compared to most, and this angers me greatly. There are always the haves and the have nots in society, and I feel like Madison was one of the haves and simply took it for granted. I will have to work 3 jobs to give my kids half the opportunities that Madison had.

          • Naomi

            My neighborhood consists of alcoholic heroin addicts, hypodermic needles are frequently found lying around the streets and sidewalks where my kids play, and I live in a blue collar white suburban neighborhood. I have been robbed. I can’t afford to move without losing a ton of money. This is the environment that my kids will grow up in. I feel like I am a have not. I have worked my ass off since I was 15.

          • Naomi

            And kids at Penn are sad. I cannot relate.

          • naomi

            Come try living on the other side of the tracks. Seriously.

          • Boo hoo hoo. Poor you. Your life is so hard. GET OVER IT. How can you even try to speak about this girl as if you knew anything about her. You know what you read in the papers, your judgments are superficial and have no merit. Maybe you should quit posting bitter insensitive comments on here, and get back to those three jobs, though I doubt it will help your children much, because with an ignorant uneducated jerk like you for a mother, they probably don’t have a shot at success anyways.

      • naomi

        Yeah, try working as an RN, rotating shifts on a medsurg floor, and supporting children and being the breadwinner for your family.

        • Big D

          maybe it’s YOU Naomi who needs counseling.

      • dorian gray

        It was the female athlete triad that led to her suicide, too much, way too much…Female athletes, particularly college athletes, should really be screened for this potentially deadly condition, it can lead to depression and suicide.

    • Bt

      You are annoying. We get your point. Others do not agree with you. My daughter plays D1 at an ivy. She also does well in school. She also played against Maddison in Soccer. She knows that she could drop out and do whatever she wants with her life and we will love her just the same. I am sure Maddison knew this as well. Suicide is the result of a mental trauma. It can and does hit anyone at anytime. It is not her fault, her friends or her families fault, or this papers fault. It is sometimes a silent pain that just overcomes people. What is important is trying to pull something
      Positive from all of this. That positive is to get people to understand that feeling overwhelmed happens to all of us at times. The positive should be that it is ok to feel this way and it is ok to express it to people and seek help. Maddison is and always will be a shining star.

      • Naomi

        What is the point in playing sports in college?? Esp if you are not a male? It really gets you nowhere. The point of going to college is to obtain an education and hopefully a job after graduating. Sports in college seem like such a waste of time and energy. Sports are used as a marketing ploy for these money hungry universities. Kids who are on sports scholarships are worked to the bone, they literally often become slaves to the sport.

        • philanrth

          Oh Naomi, you had me with your first post of students being under too much pressure, but this post is so uninformed. Do you have any idea how many kids attend college on athletic scholarships that never would have been able to afford to earn a degree? And before you try to say what about the ones that don’t graduate….Lets focus on the Big 5 schools. The athletic depts. in the Phila. Schools do an amazing job of recruiting, assisting and graduating student athletes. These woman go on to do great things for young women in our area and beyond. College athletics plays a huge roll for women from obtaining a degree, learning to be a team player at an elite level, to making life long connections with other strong women. My heart breaks for Madison Holleran and her family. I wish I could have been on that street to catch her as I know she truly did not want to die but to escape the thoughts consuming her beautiful head. God speed, Maddie.

          • philanrth

            Just one other thought….I do lay blame with the high school system in place, especially in the far too competitive North Jersey area. The HS Madison attended is well known for extreme grade inflation. I’m sorry but weighted 4.89 GPA’s are not natural or realistic. Why set kids up for believing that a 3.50 GPA at Penn is a failure. That’s insane. Most of us would be thrilled with that GPA, but maybe not if we were used to 4.80’s in high school. Parents, stop demanding schools inflate GPA’s for college admission. The colleges know they are inflated, but your children believe it’s the ruler to which they are measured.

        • MC

          sounds negative, but i actually agree with you. college is primarily about getting a degree that will allow you to get certain jobs, and the ncaa kids i know are slaves to their sports and dont have time to do homework. teachers are forced to pass them. and after college most of them dont continue to play. but obviously they are talented and chose to play ncaa, so i cant really talk

        • SocialWrker

          You may actually be one of the most ignorant human beings on the face of the earth. You are saying that people should go to college to get an education, yet your posts lead me to believe you are in fact a very uneducated person. You should really do your research before you try to speak about things you CLEARLY no nothing about. Get a life.

          • edith pilaf

            it’s know not no, you little geniazzz, you! Are you kidding!

          • tiny time

            Next time you refer to someone as “uneducated” maybe you should make sure your post is perfect. It just looks kind of silly and embarrassing for you.

    • Big D

      boy do you sound like a self hating bitter asshole. Madison is the epitome of everything that is right w/ the younger generation. She excelled in athletics and academics. She was a good daughter, a loving sister, a well liked classmate and a beautiful human being from all accounts. She aspired to greatness and for some inexplicable reason fell short. But in her 19 years lived life to the fullest which is how it’s supposed to be for young people.

  • John

    She was written about because she was the girl who had it all but still struggled to be happy. It is a message that being suicidal doesn’t mean something has to be horribly wrong and some traumatic event has to occur. It can happen to anyone. A state champion in soccer, track and field, and a student at an ivy league institution where she was having a spectacular freshman season; no one would find suicide in that mix but yet it happened. I would think her family would be happy if some other family read these articles and it saved a life. Writing articles about her life and accomplishments was done in honor of the girl everyone loved. Rest in Peace Madison.

  • naomi

    She could have easily killed an innocent person walking along the sidewalk.

    • John

      This is one of the most horrible, insensitive comments I have ever seen. Please don’t forget about the lives she is saving by having her story heard. Depression is a disease you don’t and hopefully will never have to understand, you can have your cold-hearted opinions but please keep them to your self in a tragic situation like this is cause so much pain to so many people.

      • naomi

        Easy for you to say, what if you or a loved one, a small child, was walking down the street and hit by a falling human? Seriously. I know depression is a serious disease, I am not minimizing it. at. all. BUT, all things being equal, it really is a very, very selfish act. Yeah, I know suicidal people are only thinking about their own misery, and no one else’s. I get it.

        • naomi

          Young-ish people, or people who feel sorry for themselves, should go volunteer in a less fortunate neighborhood or in a hospital caring for cancer victims. Maybe it would help them put things into perspective.

      • John is wrong

        She is NOT saving lives John. If anything she is giving those who WANT to kill themselves courage to follow in her footsteps!

  • naomi

    Falling from that building, sorry, but a very selfish way to deal with life’s challenges.

  • naomi

    Younger people must learn coping skills, and also, more importantly, learn to accept failure.

  • wes707

    As a Penn grad now 30 years old, looking back it just doesn’t matter that much what your GPA was. Enjoy your youth and don’t let the small things bring you down. Madison had her whole life ahead of her. Very sad. My heart goes out to her friends and family.

  • Giselle

    Thank you for apologizing for what appeared to be a glib and
    insensitive article.

    I know I’m not alone in trying to grasp why Madison
    allowed Penn’s pressure cooker atmosphere to push her over the edge rather than
    escape it by transferring out. But we can’t understand it unless we’ve also been in the throes of depression, choosing a desperate and permanent solution to a solvable problem.

    I’ve been reading the many articles that appeared in the NJ media
    last year regarding her incredible athletic accomplishments and one of them in
    particular struck me. She was an all-state caliber soccer player in addition to
    being an elite runner and had originally committed to play soccer at Lehigh. But then she changed her mind when Penn came calling and decided to run track instead. She preferred soccer but thought she’d be “sort of settling” for Lehigh. This says something about the kind of warped attitudes many kids are steeped in when they are taught to consider Lehigh an inadequate school, when it may have been a much better fit for her. We’ll never know. If given the choice, apparently
    it’s the Ivy League or it’s the wrong decision. It makes me wonder if this push
    to achieve at the highest level was pervasive and unrelenting in her world, and
    that anything less made her feel like an utter failure. How can society be
    structured in such a way that struggling at school drives an accomplished, formerly happy girl to the worst possible end.

    • Dana

      “I know I’m not alone in trying to grasp why Madisonallowed Penn’s pressure cooker atmosphere to push her over the edge rather than escape it by transferring out.”

      I can’t speak for Madison. But I can give you my own answer. My family and friends pleaded with me to transfer to a different school but I refused. The reason is because my professors, TAs, deans, etc. and eventually my classmates were constantly telling us that we were “Nothing without a degree from here” and “Some people are just too weak and not smart enough to make it” and “If you don’t understand you are so dumb you don’t even know what you don’t know”.

      It was this intense sense of shame – I didn’t want anyone to think that I was too dumb to make it – and I certainly didn’t want to “be nothing”. I also absolutely loved the subject I was studying – and always had. So I kept going. I would try to talk to my classmates about it – to see how they felt but they would just shrug it off. I felt so alone in my struggling. Now that I’m out of school – and talking to my classmates – we all realize how afraid we were to “not be good enough” – we all felt it but were too ashamed to talk about it.

      School was so purposely hard – with absolutely no benefits to us. They would give us impossibly hard tests on details that had no use to us. We even had a physics exam that was mathematically impossible to pass. 6/10 questions had mathematical “errors” making it absolutely impossible for you to get a correct answer. My professor thought this was really funny – came to class laughing about it – and – still counted our failing grades! To make it worse – this was our first midterm and crushed my confidence for the rest of the exams. Is this education? If this is what Ivy / Top schools are doing – maybe you really do get a better education from “lower” schools. Maybe they actually learn stuff and take care of their students.

  • Lisa

    Awful! WHY are we writing about her? Maybe because suicide is a huge issue in this country, especially among teens and young adults. This writer is an asshole. Glad he apologized and felt the heat from readers and especially from the family of this young girl. We should be writing about suicide to educate others and hopefully save lives. This guy should never be allowed to write a piece on any topic ever again.

  • Kate J

    Incredibly insensitive piece. Hey Philly mag – instead of trying to be so “liberal” and “different,” learn some respect. Your publication is an embarrassment so I’m not shocked that this was approved for publishing. Congratulations because this cruel take on the poor girls suicide is one of the first things that comes up on google results.


    My heart breaks for Madison’s family. Madison was only 19 and couldn’t handle the pressure and didn’t see a way out. NO ONE is to blame. These tragedies happen and in hindsight we all would have done things differently. I pray Madison’s family finds peace and doesn’t blame themselves. Madison would NEVER want that. God bless the family. I will pray hard for them.

  • Ryan

    …Did they thoroughly investigate her death? I didn’t know her, but just from going through her twitter and instagram she looks like a survivor—not the kind of girl who jumps off a building. She had expressed her thoughts about suicide and was seeking treatment. Maybe I am in denial…but something doesn’t feel right. I think that’s why so many peoole are shocked and why the story has spread so far and wide—a girl with that much going for her who is also seeking treatment and who obviously loves her family isn’t likely to commit suicide…esp in this manner…it is very sad and scary. If she really did commit suicide…what went wrong?

    • IDidTigerWoods

      The only thing worse than an armchair quarterback is an armchair shrink.

  • IDidTigerWoods

    In the first 2 1/2 weeks of January Madison + two other Penn undergrads committed suicide. Penn needs to take a hard look at itself. Parents and Penn students need to push back. Suicide prevention is not possible when its kept secret. The way our society treats suicidal people makes them worse. You think Penn wants suicidal students to stay in school?

    • John Doe

      What does it say that you don’t put the names of the ‘two other Penn undergrads’? Let me guess, those students weren’t pretty white girls, so no interest in their lives and deaths?

  • Pedro Gonzales

    This is indeed a sad time. A young, beautiful, and smart woman has left this world. The sadness that is left her family is beyond words and feelings that only they experience. She had a bright future in this world but she succumbed to self-induced pressures of this world. We all feel disappointed when we are not ‘perfect’, we know more than anyone our weaknesses that do not match up to what we feel they should be. However, the message of the Bible is God does not expect human perfection….because we have a sin nature that cannot be perfect….cannot please God. This is what Jesus Christ did, by faith in his blood sacrifice, death, and resurrection from the dead (the Gospel) we are seen by God as being….perfect. The Bible calls it……the righteousness of Christ.

    “The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Romans, chapter 1.
    “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” Revelation, chapter 1.

  • Guest

    “We don’t write about suicides very often — not at Philly Mag, and not at very many outlets.” I call bull shit. Philly Mag search results for “Philly Mag Suicide.”

    About 1,550 results (0.24 seconds)

  • scallywag

    Could it be then the unrelenting pressure of attaining perfection, looking the part, being the part, academically, athletically that may have brought Madison Holleran to despair as she was seen as infallible despite increasing feelings of self doubt and perhaps reticence of continually being in the spotlight?

    Did it have to take Madison’s death before her humanity was noted….?


  • mj

    As a parent I was aware that my children sometimes struggled with adjusting to college life and this is why I’m disappointed to read your comments. How very sad that Madison Holleran gave up hope. You insinuate that her good looks are the reason we’re interested in her story. If that’s what it takes to get the attention that her story deserves, then so be it. Her story may help others who are struggling to realize that they need to turn to someone, anyone who will listen. It may also open up discussions between parents/children regarding anxiety and depression. I hope that next time you will choose your words carefully.

    • naomi

      It is sad that we make kids feel as though college is the only option. There are fewer and fewer jobs out there anyway. Look at all the unemployed and underemployed college educated people. Learning a trade or attaining a skill would be the better route for many people. Not everyone is meant to be a college educated “professional”. However, we tend to look down on those individuals who don’t have a college education. College has become an extension of high school, it’s either like a free-for-all or it becomes an obsessive, unhealthy competition, that for many kids leads to nothing so great anyway. Look at our economy!! We are trying to fit square pegs into round holes. We have to start thinking outside the box. Kids should not be afraid or ashamed to deviate from the norm when it comes to education. Parents need to be there for their children, really BE there from the beginning, and love them unconditionally. I am not saying that Madison wasn’t loved, but for some reason I believe she felt that she had to live up to some expected ideal. She was maybe too hard on herself, a perfectionist. She was probably so used to being the best without having to put in too much effort, when she arrived at Penn, she was in an entirely new world. There is always someone “better”, and kids need to realize that and accept that from a young age.

      • naomi

        The US is a completely different place than it was 20, even 10 years ago, and that isn’t a good thing. We have pushed and pushed people to become college educated while eliminated many skilled positions. We have to change our mindset in order to adapt to the new world in which we live, unfortunately. Some parents fail to realize that this is not the world they were brought up into.

  • anon

    I see no problem writing about this, as long as you are sensitive. Suicide is a real problem in society. Depression is also a social problem that we should all acknowledge as real and look for ways to alleviate it. A lot of incredibly intelligent people go through temporary difficulties and fail to realize that their problems are temporary. If you can reach out to those people and help them see the forest for the trees, it is a respectable venture whenever and wherever it is done. I’m sure many people wish they were able to step back in time and help someone like Madison realize that she had everything going for her, even if she was not beating the ivy-league know-it-alls in grades or whatever measure that some try to put significance in. When we write about that aspect of it, who knows, you might just reach someone else who is going through similar problems.

  • L. Amos

    There is a huge story here, write something worthwhile. Would you write about an epidemic? It is a bigger story than you chose in your small mindedness to grasp. Madison was a role model and can continue to be one if you use this story properly.

    For confidential support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.

    For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or see http://www.samaritans.org.

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 1-888 -333-2377

    American Association of Suicidology (202) 237-2280

    ReachOut.com and Jerseyvoice.net offer inspirational stories of hope, help, strength and overcoming difficult times.

  • Sad

    I think we are riveted to this horrific story at least in part because it presents suicide in a scary new way to us. When we read about these tragedies we normally learn of something that can explain the decedent’s despair; something that informs us as to how or why the person would have made that awful choice. Sometimes it’s physical injury, or sometimes the loss of a loved one, or a devastating change in life’s circumstances, or an enduring mental illness. And when we learn of a particular rationale, it alleviates the concern – perhaps – that this could happen to one of our loved ones.

    Here, though, the image of someone who takes their own life is just obliterated. By all accounts, and by all of the twitter and instagram and other social media material, we see an accomplished, beloved young woman. A young woman who was lauded as much for her kind heart and work ethic, as she was for her beauty and intelligence. She was a young woman with a limitless future. And now we have a new paradigm that we have to confront: if this kind of tragedy can befall Madison Holleran and her family, it can happen to ours. And, like her family, we may be powerless to prevent it. That’s frightening as hell, and why I will donate to the suicide prevention charity selected by her family. Maybe that noble organization and others like it can improve the understanding and awareness that older adults need to have in order to protect our girls and boys as they mature into adulthood.

    Let us pray that her family’s suffering will one day ease.

  • naomi

    Much of the time, suicide is a very impulsive act. It only takes a split second to make a bad decision. Not always time to call a suicide line. However, providing the numbers is a nice thought. The thought process needs to change, or kids need to be brought up differently from the start. Sometimes it is too late to change someone.

  • PhillyBlog

    Shortly before the first few comments appearing here now and the publishing of this revised version, there were a small number of other reader comments apparently deleted. Some of them were simply rather nasty or abusive toward the author, but the last one I saw before this update was mine, nothing like those first ones.

    In my comment that no longer appears now, I simply raised a question, essentially like the question I have also seen raised by one other reader elsewhere. I don’t have a copy of my original comment, so I’ll just restate it here. In that previous comment I pointed out that one of the readers at the NJ.com article the writer links to here in the second paragraph beginning with “So we’re not sure why” asks,”That location is right in the middle of Center City. Sure it wasn’t an accident?”

    In my opinion, that’s a good question, and that’s a good way of representing my question here. So how do they know and how can they “rule” so quickly and decisively that it was suicide? All I have seen in any news report anywhere are merely terse statements that Madison Holleran took her own life, it was ruled a suicide, etc. Penn’s own DP publication now reports only that her death “was a suicide, according to […]” and that “She fell to her death.” Originally, however, that article appeared under a title/link about “Confirm[ing] [the] Details,” but now only as “College freshman, 19, dies in Center City.” So far I have also not seen a single piece of information reported as to how and why it has been and can be so definitely ruled as a suicide, whether there is any witness corroboration of seeing her jump to her death, for example, or why other possible causes have been so completely and definitively ruled out based on the terse statements in the news reports.

    This has also been the only local Phila report I have seen for which reader comments have been allowed, unless perhaps there was some site bug or malfunction occurring. I haven’t checked back with any others lately to see if reader comments are open now, so as I did originally I’m simply posting and raising this question here.

    This is a very sad tragedy, and so far in my view the definitive claim of suicide to the exclusion of all other possibilities has not been established in any reporting I have seen. In my opinion the most anyone could say along such lines from anything I have seen reported about Madison Holleran’s tragic death would be more like “some think it was suicide.”

    • naomi

      How did no one see it happen? I am really surprised that she didn’t land on someone below and kill them. It is a busy area usually. There must be cameras, maybe she was out of view though. Hmmmm…evidently, she left a suicide note and presents for family and friends though.

      • PhillyBlog

        Thanks, Naomi, yours was the first mention I’ve seen of that anywhere including every report I came across before subsequently searching on what you just said.

        • Naomi

          It’s weird, I work near there and haven’t heard anything about it, but come on, it was Friday night!!! So strange…there must be more to the story, the jumping off the parking garage part. I really can’t imagine walking down the street and seeing someone plop down on the concrete. How traumatizing must that have been??? Someone must have witnessed it, it would be a miracle if no one was there, esp on a Friday.

  • Tess

    We should NOT be writing about Madison. She was incredibly selfish. She has devastated a family that will never be the same again as they bury their child. She could have spared us all the dramatic flair, packed up and gone home. Have fun haunting a parking garage….

  • scallywag

    On the day Madison jumped to her death, her father texted her that morning encouraging her to see a therapist for some anti-depressants, and she said she would. Of contention is whether she was already on medication prior to her jump and if so what medication and who may have administered it? And perhaps more ominously did this medication if any tip the teen over the edge?


  • Mary

    I suggest anyone who found this article to be very poorly written (as I did) check out the story posted on Philly.com on the same topic. Far better articulated.

    Kudos to the author for admitting his failure to communicate his point. But after reading another author’s explanation of this very same point that was clearly well-thought out, I have to say shame on you for so carelessly throwing this story together in the first place. Would it hurt to put a little more thought into your writing? That is your job after all…

  • FOJL

    Did you cover the girl who got killed with her Mom the other night?
    What about the usual list of robberies, shootings, holdups, and other crimes?
    Where does it start and where does it stop?
    Lets face it and be honest:
    Madison was young, attractive, white, smart, educated, athletic and sadly, vulnerable.
    And you people now have a story….

  • Diana Lane

    Shame on Joel Mathais for writing this article.

  • SMH

    I get the point, although it was crudely expressed. Not the type of writing I would have expected and quite disappointing. Clearly, the author is not a parent and certainly has never lost anyone to suicide. My true condolences to the family.

  • Kevin

    Your an asshole Joel!

  • Fuck philly mag

    Madison was literally a celebrity in her hometown and at Penn. EVERYONE knew her. Fuck whoever wrote this article.

    • naomi

      meanwhile unfortunate, homely, overweight, poor, uneducated people continue to commit suicide daily and no one blinks an eye….

  • Jason

    The title of this “piece” says it all. How you could write that and not question your integrity is shocking. Glib. Distasteful. What should I have expected from a magazine that excels in providing endless lists and profiles of assholes? PS- Your update cemented my impression that you are a turd with zero integrity. Note that.

  • naomi

    Madison is a role model? Sorry if this is callous, but to whom? How about my neighbor who grew up in foster homes and OD’d on prescription drugs and heroin? how about my cousin who blew his brains out? Are they role models to? By your logic, they should be. These people are a lot of things, but role model would not be one of them.

    • naomi

      More like cautionary tales….

  • Kyle Christopher

    The point the author was expressing was one which simply wondered why one such tragic story was receiving national news coverage, while many others like it do not. It was quite obviously not in any way meant to disparage Madison or her family, but rather a critique of the motives of the media. Quite frankly, you’d have to be a dunce not to see that. And let’s be honest, the wide coverage of Madison’s suicide is exactly because she was beautiful and intelligent, and chose to end her seemingly promising young life in one of the most horrifying and brutal ways imaginable (I still can’t wrap my head around it). A burnout with no future intentionally overdosing on xanax and vodka just doesn’t grab headlines. Sorry, but that’s the world we live in. The author was simply pointing out the obvious.

  • PhilFP

    Why am I reading your columns?
    Oh, that’s right, I won’t be anymore.

  • MC

    of course i dont know for sure, but i dont think her college, grades, athletics, etc had anything to do with her suicide.
    depression defies logic. it doesnt need a reason.

  • big baby

    Excessive running, or exercise, is very unhealthy, especially for females. Many female runners stop menstruating naturally, look up female athlete triad. If a woman’s hormones are so screwed up that she doesn’t menstruate, how can this be healthy for the brain and neurotransmitters i.e. serotonin/dopamine? Anything in excess can be harmful, including exercise.