Last Wednesday, I sat in the bleachers observing the Miss Carroll County 2015 Fair Queen Pageant. It was the first pageant I've ever seen in person, and I chose a seat isolated from others to take the best notes possible.
Ten girls competed in the junior division. I thought they were all impressive for competing in the first place; I have self-esteem problems and could never submit myself to that kind of judgment. Those girls described their passions. They strolled across the stage in evening wear. Knowing the odds weren't in their favor to win the pageant, they competed anyway. I admired that.
I admired it so much that I began romanticizing how it felt to be in high school. The pageant girls were beautiful, I thought, and had so much life ahead of them. They had friends and love interests and boundless potential. Even better, they seemed so pleasant.
The girls I knew in high school were never that pleasant. They were catty. They insulted my style and snickered about that awful hairstyle I had for two consecutive years. I admitted to myself that I treated them the same way. Maybe, I thought, the tide was changing.
I thought wrong. Once the junior division ended, a group of teenagers opted to sit behind me. They could have sat a few rows up or down, but I guess it's hard to pass up the opportunity to repeatedly kick a stranger in the back. I tried not to stress about that, thinking it would create more of a scene if I reacted negatively. Anyway, I was there to work. I didn't have time to worry about the inconsiderate kids sitting behind me.
Right before the senior division began, one of the girls who competed in the junior division sat with this group. She seemed so pleasant during the pageant that I thought she'd tell her friends to quiet down; with the group sitting so close, a couple of the girls could clearly see I was working. Hopefully, I thought, the pageant girl would have my back.
It turns out she didn't have anybody's back. She added to the noise and the kicks. She even began insulting the girls she competed against. She was particularly disappointed with one contestant.
"She entered last minute," the pageant girl scoffed. "That's why her hair was a mess."
Her friends added more pleasantries about the girls competing in the pageant, saying they hoped one girl would fall on her face. Another girl, I overheard a teenage boy say, had no business winning the pageant because she wasn't physically pleasing. This same boy later insulted a student who may or may not have a developmental disorder; he described this student as "half-retarded."
I began to question whether these teenagers were trying to impress me by saying such cruel things. Their vocal tone screamed "look at how cool I am!"
They might as well have said, "I denigrate others to make myself feel better! Aren't I the coolest?"
Suddenly, I realized that high school is exactly the same now as it was six years ago. Kids are still mean to one other for no reason. I fell into this trap when I was a teenager. I had many self-esteem and anxiety-related problems, so I insulted others to feel better about myself. When I think back on it, I am ashamed.
To those kids I insulted in high school, I apologize. I'm not a bully anymore, and I don't intend to be ever again.
To those kids I overheard at the pageant last week, you will regret your behavior in the future. You probably don't think so now, but you won't enjoy realizing that you were a bully.
You have a decision to make. You can stop hurting others, or you can deny that this column is about you.
I hope you choose wisely.
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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com.