Just in time for Bullying Awareness Week, today's guest post from Robin Waden, a contestant in the Miss North Carolina pageant and former victim of bullying, reflects on the importance of peer support. Check it out below and be sure to continue the coversation around bullying in our forums where yesterday's live chat on the topic lives on!
My name is Robin Waden. I'm a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as well as a contestant in the Miss North Carolina USA 2013 state pageant. Growing up was a bit different for me. My father was enlisted in the Navy years before I was born. He moved my mother and my sister from the state of North Carolina to Hawaii where I was born in Honolulu. Over the next 16 years, my family moved to various cities in Hawaii, California and Washington State. While I cherish many of the memories and experiences I had as a Navy brat moving from place to place, some memories are bittersweet. I transferred to at least four schools between California and Washington State before my family finally settled in a small town in Washington State when I was in the fourth grade. I remember always feeling out of place with other students having no problem expressing their indifference toward me.
Nearly every day from fourth grade to junior high school, I endured bullying and verbal abuse from other students. I was told that I was worthless, ugly, and unintelligent. Even if I changed the style of my clothes, or my hairstyle, other students would find ways to harass me. When I was 11 years old, I caught the chicken pox near the end of the school year. I broke out in blisters from head to toe that left me with many dark scars and keloids that remained with me for years. I wore make up to hide the scars and to help “change” my look, but the harassment didn't end. Another student even stopped me at the bus stop just to tell me that it didn't matter how much make-up I wore, I would never be “pretty.” As hard as I tried to not let the comments and bullying get to me, it still took its toll. I can still remember standing in the mirror at 12 years old looking at my scars with tears in my eyes asking God, “If you didn't make me ‘pretty,’ why couldn't you have made me smart?” My grades had suffered severely throughout elementary and junior high school, and I thought I would never make it beyond high school. Little did I know that it was childhood depression and anxiety that caused much of the strain of my grades.
It was in high school when things began to turn around. I finally began to speak up for myself. Slowly but surely, the walls began coming down. I would not have begun to break these barriers that were built around me if it wasn't for the friends and positive people who came into my life throughout the years. They helped me to keep my identity and became my emotional support system. After my father retired from the Navy, my family and I moved for the last time in my junior year to my parents' home state of North Carolina. At times, I found myself dealing with similar issues of bullying that I endured as a young teen, but I could now stand up for myself and make sure my voice was heard when other students tried to put me down.
In my senior year, I not only completed high school, but received a full scholarship due to my volunteer work and my father being a disabled veteran. In addition, I also received another scholarship to a local community college. I made the Dean’s list my freshman year at my community college and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro my sophomore year. In December of 2011, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre.
In the last months before my graduation, I came upon the Miss USA website and found the page for the preliminary rounds for Miss North Carolina USA state pageant. I had admired the Miss USA state pageants since I was young and grew up watching them on television, but I never thought about actually competing. I decided to submit an application and headshot and was surprised to find an inquiry from the staff of the Miss North Carolina State pageant the following morning. At the time, because of graduation and finances, I could not compete in the pageant that year. However, shortly after graduation I submitted again. Though a series of interviews with the pageant officials of the Miss North Carolina USA pageant, I was awarded the title of Miss High Point USA 2013. This November I will be competing for the title of Miss North Carolina USA. The young women who are elected for their regional title serve as ambassadors to their cities for their cities, and I wanted to represent “The Furniture Capital of the World” the best I could. While my regional title is the first step of preliminaries to the state pageant, it has allowed me to amplify the message I’ve long wanted to send about the pressing social issues in schools and colleges. It has also helped me to get involved with more local organizations including the Special Olympic of North Carolina. If anyone would have told me that this is where I would be ten years ago, I would have thought they were lying to me. The thought of going from a teen that was bullied, to a college graduate with a shot at being the next Miss USA, still sounds almost unreal to my own ears, but it’s the truth.
The most important element when dealing with bullying is to speak up. Bullying will not be solved with silence. You have to raise your voice and speak up when someone is making you uncomfortable. Talk with people you trust, and make teachers, counselors and even the SRO ( School Resources Officer) aware of the situation so they will know what is going and can take the next appropriate step. Offering encouragement to those dealing with this is a big part of the healing process. I will never forget those who spoke and stood up for me when my voiced was silenced from fear and humiliation. I can never thank them enough and would not be who I am and where I am today without them.
Adults and children alike are dealing with this issue that keeps repeating itself in different forms. Make that difference in his or her life. Lift him up and offer encouragement, or help her know that she has a voice. If you've ever been made to feel you don't have a voice or made to feel like you are worth less than you truly are, you are not alone. We are everywhere and we have a voice that is strong. So speak up, and speak out.
Robin Waden is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she earned her Bachelor degree in Theatre. She is looking forward to soon pursue a career in costume design and special effects make up. Robin will be competing in the Miss North Carolina State pageant this November with hopes to compete in the Miss USA national pageant. Robin has been working to raise awareness against bullying in schools by talking with local school officials as well as law enforcement on how to appropriately deal with this issue.