From Wallflower To Leader

My inspiration to talk about bullying is a life-long mission, and it may get lost in the sea of all the other bullying blogs. However, I think mine is just as important to put out there, as I think we can all draw inspiration from each other and this one post might make a difference to one person. I can only know this by submitting it into this overwhelmingly large (and sometimes scary) internet world.

My name is Kelly Tillman. I am a very dedicated and hardworking woman, as I have come from a background that has not been fortunate. I come from a single parent family and I am the first woman in my family to be able to attend college, so completing my undergraduate degree was an accomplishment which I am very proud to have attained. Throughout my years prior to attending college, I was always a wallflower. I stood in the background and let my life pass me by, too shy to strive for something bigger and better. From third grade to tenth grade, I was constantly bullied and harassed in school. These students were determined and seemingly made it their goal to get under my skin and see a result of their words and actions. At school, my peers would scream awful things specifically about me in large groups of people, echoing down the hallway until I heard it. I remember those days like it was yesterday – hearing them screaming about me and just letting the tears run down my cheeks, hoping it will stop soon. I would sit in the bathroom during lunch because I knew nobody would sit with me (a la Mean Girls), and if they did, it would be as another way to bring me down and make me feel small. I would simply walk by girls and they would look at me, whisper to each other, laugh… openly saying negative things about me so I knew.

Not only would they bully me at school – they would bring it to my home, my safe haven where I thought I could have my peace. My peers would egg my house, leave trash at my steps, stand outside my front door in a group to intimidate me, and bring online outlets into the mix. I would get threatening emails, instant messages and any other way possible to get to me. I grew up in the time when internet was fresh and new – the days of instant messaging and no way of tracking the writer. They wanted information on me that they could use against me. They pretended to be my friend and then any secret I was foolish enough to tell them was broadcasted to the entire school. I wasn’t allowed in clubs like yearbook because I wasn’t “popular”.

This was so prominent in my life that I tried to stay as far out of the public eye as possible. Most days, it was difficult to motivate myself to get out of bed, let alone face the same struggles that many children face today at school when bullies are present and determined to hurt others. I felt so small and so insignificant. I have no brothers or sisters and my mother is the only parent in the picture, so she had a heavy load as far as soothing me after every day of battle at school.

As I previously mentioned, I am from a single parent family, as my father was never responsible and caring enough to deserve me in his life. In second grade, he sent his mother and friend to my mother’s house (half way across the country) to lure me off the school bus and into their car. I was able to make it into the house without knowing what was going on, but as the cars started to drive by constantly and they began knocking on the door, calling my name, asking me to come out and talk to them… I realized this was a more serious situation. My mother was unable to come to the house because they were parked in the driveway and blocking the entrance. I remember the day so vividly, as I had to climb out of a broken door in the garage with my neighbor and walk quietly and carefully through the woods behind my house so they didn’t see me while I snuck out and into his house. The police were called and they were arrested, but she stuck to her story. She wanted to bring me back to my father. It showed me that even grown adults can be victimizing and controlling. To this day, I feel like my childhood was stolen from me because of all of these people and their drive to make my life theirs and not my own. I felt as though I was never going to be safe… that being an adult didn’t mean that I could live freely and be myself without fear of abandonment or being selected as the next cruel joke.

However, when I began attending college, my thoughts on life changed dramatically. My freshman year was the expected blur of confusion and homesickness, but sophomore year became the beginning of my beautiful journey from a wallflower to a role model on campus. Out of loneliness and boredom, I joined Student Government Association on campus with one of my freshman year roommates. I was sure that this would be short-lived and I would be on to something new soon after. However, my experience could not have been more opposite. I look back on this as being the best choice I could have ever made for myself. I started out as a Class of 2010 Representative, with little responsibility and little motivation. I was shy, and felt as though public speaking was one of the most terrifying things I could do. I had been so shy and introverted throughout my entire life that the small tasks I was asked to do were more than enough. The bonds I made that year, however, motivated me to run for Class of 2010 Treasurer the following year. I also sat on the Student Affairs subdivision of the All College Committee as the Vice-Chair that year.

My passion for Student Government and making a difference on campus grew very quickly. I joked with my fellow class officers about running for Class President for our senior year, and when the time began to inch closer, I realized it might be something I was willing to risk. The component of the role I was intimidated by was the only thing in my way – having the role of delivering the Commencement speech at the 2010 graduation ceremony. I eventually signed out an election packet and began my campaign. I was running against the president of the most popular fraternity on campus, who had never participated one day on a Student Government council, so I immediately knew what his intentions were. I knew I had to win the race, because my passion for the school was much stronger than his ever could have been. I had no idea that the passion I had could further grow even more than it was, but it did. I was finally realizing that I could control my own future and the way I looked at things – it wasn’t up to anyone else but me.

During the progression of the school year, I spearheaded events such as Locks of Love (a foundation that donates hair to create wigs for disadvantaged children) and participated in the American Heart Association Heart Walk. I was also appointed to ACC Student Affairs as Chairperson, implementing each of the discussions, prompting the committee members on valid points to consider, and working directly with the chairperson of the main All College Committee itself. I was honored to be able to take a trip to the American Student Government Association Summit in Washington, DC in September of 2009 to represent my school and to learn more about delegation and the various methods used by Student Government Associations to carry out their duties across the country.

The greatest reward for my hard work came in May of 2010, when I was chosen as the Senior Leader of the Year. This followed a process where all candidates were nominated and voted on by a committee of leaders across campus. I began to anticipate delivering the Commencement speech at Graduation on May 22, 2010. I was never a strong public speaker, but I had been working for the entire school year in preparation. The day came, and it was the most beautiful experience of my life. It felt as though I had climbed a mountain, beginning at the lowest point I possibly could, culminating with having the privilege of speaking to the class that I had bonded and became so attached to by the end of the year. I was so elated when I was able to give the speech, and appropriately quoted Conan O’Brien from his final “Tonight Show” episode. “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

I was also able to present the Senior Class a scholarship created in conjunction with the Alumni Association in memory of a member of the Class of 2010 (and a friend of mine) who had been killed the previous summer. I legitimately had (and still have) so much passion and love for my undergraduate Class of 2010 for indirectly bringing me to a place in my life where I finally felt proud and accomplished. I felt as though my life had meaning, like I had helped to make a difference. Even as I type this, my eyes are welling up with tears, in reflecting upon something I had never dreamed of while getting so aggressively bullied in my younger years.

My lifelong goal now is to eventually become part of an anti-bullying program and help people of all ages (since we all know that bullying doesn’t stop in grade school) with their wounds that were inflicted by others. I tell friends and family frequently that I feel so fortunate and that my life seems to be like a Lifetime movie, as it was so low and became such a character-changing, negative to positive experience. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world, but I will never forget this journey. It’s important that anyone who is a victim of bullying can speak of their experiences. It’s also important to remember that you can be that one person to help someone who is being bullied. You can be the one person to stick up for them, make them feel like there is hope, make them feel as though they have even one soul in this world on their side. There is too much violence in the world and with so many terrible tragedies being carried out because one person felt bullied, victimized, and small… we may be able to change the course of society in even a tiny way.

If you’re reading this and you have been hurt by others – or you may have done the hurting yourself in the past – just know that we all need to learn and bring something from negative experiences. We need to be strong for each other and know that we aren’t insignificant. We can make a difference in the world, even though we’re just one person. Let’s all try to be that one person who can make a change for someone else in our lives.

Kelly Tillman is a master’s student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and an aspiring kindergarten teacher. She’s passionate about baking (and eating) cupcakes and loves to find any opportunity to giggle with friends, new and old. You can find her on Twitter.

Featured Image via Shutterstock