This I Believe

Kelli - Cypress, California
Entered on April 1, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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My junior high school’s Valentine’s dance featured crowning of the school’s queen and her princesses. For this royal court, boys and girls cast their nominations and final votes in history classes. Because this was coastal Southern California circa 1974, most venerated the surfer-chick vibe—breezy, blonde, and bikini-ready—in their choices.

However, some kids used the ballot in an attempt to mock other young ladies on a bloodless yet no less hurtful scale than what Stephen King’s Carrie endured. Five peers tried submitting my name as a joke candidate.

Then as now, I defied categories. I qualified for the school’s accelerated classes in spite of mild dyspraxia and borderline ADD. These—plus my mélange of Okinawan, native Hawaiian, Irish, English, and Scottish—made me the campus Affirmative Action mascot. My diction, emotional maturity, and often office-appropriate dress frequently got me mistaken for faculty or for someone’s wonderful yet undeniably older sister. In short, I was fodder for others’ fun.

Despite the teacher’s reported intervention with something to the effect of “Either Kelli is a serious contender or we move on to the next person,” the mockery still stung. And, although I could not yet articulate it, I was aware of the double irony behind the social studies department in the selection process. Both incongruities resided within the official curricula, which celebrated human diversity and preached that elections should rise above popularity contests.

The best way for my psychic burns to heal was springing into action. I asked my English teacher and speech team coach if I could name her as the faculty contact on a short proposal I was typing in the school’s office. She gladly agreed.

Three ruined sheets of paper and 20 minutes later, my outline for the school’s first talent show—complete with a project timeline and a call for approval—landed atop the principal’s desk.

Several acts, selected by audition, electrified the school on April 5, 1974—the date I would later learn Doubleday published Carrie! Pianists, vocalists, ballerinas, tuba players, and many more took the stage. A hybrid Bill Cosby-Ben Vereen type among my classmates served as master of ceremonies. The principal, vice principal, counselors, and teachers stood so solidly behind the program that they designated the rare assembly schedule calling for shortened class periods and requiring every student on campus that day to attend!

I’m still glad I had the chance to let others’ accomplishments reign in a forum with no losers and provide visibility to people amid the smoke and mirrors of popularity! Moreover, the presentation reflected one of my longstanding beliefs: killing naysayers and bullies not with Carrie-style telekinesis, but with kindness. Planning and executing the event transformed my personal pain into positives that directly benefited others. The entire experience fueled my now 30-year diversified career as a human resources, workplace learning and performance, and organizational communications professional—still ablaze with opportunities to shape the businesses I serve as well as other people’s lives.