Deanna felt her stomach drop at the mention of her speech. It was less than a week away now, though she had practiced in front of her mom, step dad and younger brother, she was in no shape to deliver such a powerful message to the class of 2020.
This morning Deanna ate, showered and returned to her bedroom. She lifted the yellow folder off her dresser. Walked to the full length mirror which hung on the back of her closet door. Deanna opened the folder, took out the speech and started to read a loud.
" I want to begin by letting everyone here know how important this subject is. Many people know a bully. Many people themselves have bullied others. You might not even be aware that sometimes your actions have brutal consequences on others. I know first hand the lasting affects of bulling. It was a part of my life and my families life for quite along time."
She stops. Feeling like something just isn't quite right. Deanna stares down at the words on the paper in her hand. She still believes it needs more work. Still she stares back at her reflection in the mirror then starts again.
"The thing about bullies is they make you feel you deserve everything they do or say. But nothing could be further from the the truth. People who are bullied are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. The numbers of suicides associated with bullying has nearly tripled in the last ten years." Deanna stops again.
Deanna continues to practice her speech in her room for the next few days. One morning at the breakfast table, her mom catches her looking down at the speech spread out on the table. Deanna grins.
"It really is very good. I just think you should know that."
" Thanks. But I keep getting nervous. I just know I'm going to mess up when I'm in front of the whole assembly."
"No, you got to stop thinking that way." Her mother told her.
"I hate speaking in public. I wish they'd asked someone else besides me." Deanna looks sad. Her mother touches her hand.
"Listen to me, they chose you for a reason. Because of what you went through. You know first hand what bulling does to a family. I think its an honor that you were picked for a speech like this. Try to look at the good this will do for other kids. For families who are suffering like we were. I know how smart you are."
"But what if I make a mistake? What if I cry or choke up when I have to say her name?"
"So what? It'll be alright. You speak from your heart and I promise the words will come easier than you ever could imagine. You're the bravest girl I know." Her mom kissed her on the cheek.
"You really think so mom?"
"Yes, I do. And I'm proud of you. Everyone at school is."
The day of the assembly fell on Wednesday the fifth of November. Deanna took this as a sign of luck. She pulled her long hair back off her face and tied it into a neat ponytail. She wore no makeup and no jewelry. Deanna wore a long sleeve powder blue blouse with black dress pants and black flats. Her mom smiled at her when Deanna entered her room.
"Are you ready?"
"I think so. Todays the fifth..."
"I noticed that too. Do you need a ride?"
"No, I can drive myself. Where is Joey?"
" He left early but he told me he is going to meet us there. Want me to cook you breakfast?"
"No, I have to be on time. Do I look ok?"
Her mom smiled at her.
"Oh yes, you look perfect."
Deanna ate a bowl of corn flakes with a small banana and skipped her usual cup of coffee. In the driveway she started the engine of her Accord. She spoke some of the speech out loud while she waited for the car to warm up. It took only eight minutes to arrive at the high school.
The assembly was scheduled for twelve noon. Deanna arrived at the auditorium seven minutes early. She paced until the assistant principle made her stop. He handed Deanna a bottle of water.
"Go on, it will calm your nerves. Take deep breaths as well."
Deanna took a large mouthful as the assistant principle took the stage. Deanna put the cap back on the water bottle and waited until she heard him call her name. At first she didn't realize she had walked out from behind the curtain and crossed the stage to where the podium stands. It was as if her feet had a mind of their own.
The room was eerily quiet. But every seat was full. Deanna tried her hardest to scan over the others and locate her family.
Then she reached for the speech and knocked over the microphone beside her. It made a horrible metallic thud against the hardwood floor of the stage. Deanna grabbed it quickly and stood it right side up.
She looked out again into the crowd. Some of them smiled, others waited while she gathered up her courage. A hand lifted slowly from the far right section of the room. Deanna saw it was her mom. Trying to get her to begin. She took a long breath, then released it.
"I'm sure glad that happened before I starting talking. I swear it wasn't planned."
Several kids laughed. Deanna did too.
"I was about to read from a huge speech that I wrote over a month ago but I'm not going to now. I have something different in mind. Could you please look over to the fifth person seated in the row where you are? I had you do that for a reason. One in five students is bullied everyday. Not just here in our school but all over our country. Most students don't bother to report these attacks. Yeah, that is exactly what they are. When you go home today, after you stop thinking about what I have shared with you here, there will be someone crying because they just want it to stop. I want it to stop.
The parents of the boy or girl who cry themselves to sleep at night want it to stop."
Deanna is holding back tears but she continues on.
"I had a sister. Her name was Valerie. She was smart, funny, could dance circles around me. Valerie liked everybody. I thought everyone liked her. Valerie was twelve so I must've been nine.
It started that year. First it was tame. The girls would make fun of her glasses. It moved on to her name, clothing she had on, a book she would read at lunch... all they needed was ammunition. Valerie told nobody at first but when the bullies got physical, she went to her teacher and guidance counselor."
Deanna watches her mom wipe her tears away. Her brother is crying now too. She takes another deep breath.
"They promised to help. They assured her it would stop. It never did. In fact two weeks after Valerie spoke with them things got so much worse. My sister was pushed down a flight of stairs, tripped in the hall, landing on her face as a result and shoved into a wall of lockers. Valerie had blood on her face and ran to the nurse. My mom made trips to the school almost everyday. My sister begged to stay home. At times she did. When Valerie got her period, the girls used this to punish her. Disgusting notes taped to her locker along with messy sanitary napkins. It was cruel and dehumanizing.
My sister lost weight, stop caring about school and suffered from severe depression. Eight weeks later, just three days before her thirteenth birthday... Valerie took her life. My mom found her in the closet of her bedroom."
Deanna is shaking and crying uncontrollably. Mr. Jones hurries to her side. She leans against the assistant principle.
"Can you continue? Are you going to be ok?" He asks.
"Yes, I just need a minute."
He hands her a box of tissues. Deanna blows her nose. She wipes off her face. He waits until she can continue.
"Valerie died on Wednesday April fifth. A day my family will never forget. I came here to give you facts about bullies and victims of bullying but really I wanted you to know about my sister. I miss her more than I can say. She didn't deserve what happened to her. No one does. Valerie was kind. She taught me how to ride my bike, how to tie my shoes, she... was always kind to me. I wish she were still here. Please, stop being mean to each other. Think before you hurt someone's feelings. But if you or someone you love is being bullied help them. Don't look the other way. All of us can make sure this stops. Everyone in this room knows a bully. Everyone in this room has done nothing. But now, we change that. We stop the hate. Thank you so much for listening to me today."
The entire room stands and breaks into applause. Deanna is smiling and crying at the same time. Her Mom, brother and step Dad Joe head toward the stage. Mr. Jones thanks Deanna. She takes the stairs to exit the stage. When she reaches her family they wrap their arms around her.
"You were incredible." Her mom says.
"Yeah you made them listen." Joey says.
"You made us cry." Her brother adds.
Deanna squeezes him tight. Her mom grins at this.
"Come on you two lets' go get pizza."