May 24, 2012
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I stood in the center of the auxiliary gym, clad in a forest-green shirt-– the uniform for Safety Team members-–visibly shaking in front of four hundred upperclassmen. I shifted my weight from one leg to another, hoping to calm my nerves and quell my trembling muscles. I glanced at either side of the gym to assess my audience: unfavorable. Seniors would never listen to the words of an underclassman, even those of a junior. I blinked once, took a deep breath, and opened my mouth to speak.

As the story – words written by another student – poured out of my mouth, I forgot the upperclassmen sitting in front of me. This moment wasn’t about me, but rather about the boy who suffered daily at the mouths of his peers. They never punched him or kicked him or caused him any physical harm. What they did was much worse: the rumors, the lies, the whispers, and then, of course, those who felt no remorse spit the names to his face. They harassed him for years while the others—this was the worst part—just watched or ignored.

The problem is clear: the only viable solution to counter bullying is to empower bystanders, the person I used to be, to become upstanders. The power of the bully stems from the silence of his or her peers; one person can break the silence and, therefore, break the bully. Bullies rarely attack kids with ample friends to back them up; they target the silent, lonely, and unprotected kids.

When I stopped speaking, I wasn’t shaking anymore. I walked back to my reserved space in the bleachers, unintentionally next to the most notorious group of senior boys, as the gym remained perfectly silent. The same boys who had flung snide comments about the first boy to speak—“what a fag,” “he’s so gay”—now joined the silence as another student stood up. As I sat down, starting to shake again at the thought of what they had said about me while I spoke, a boy one row up said softly, “Shivangi, you did a really great job.”

“Thanks,” I said. I hadn’t realized that my entire body had been involuntarily tense until my shoulders relaxed after his comment. As another girl, this time a senior, repositioned the microphone to suit her height, the boy to my left said, “I swear she’s got to be the most annoying person I’ve ever met.”

His friend shot him a look of disappointment and responded, “I can’t believe you just said that.”

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