Every year, as graduation season kicks off, I sit down to write a letter to my former classmates at Frederick High School. The letter is intended for more than just those who comprised the class of 2002. It is my intention for it be read and applied to the lives of those far beyond my hometown of Frederick, Oklahoma. I think this year’s letter does a better job of achieving that mission than anything else I have written before, but I will let you be the judge of that.
I hope this letter finds you well. A quick search on Facebook shows you smiling, laughing, and loved. We all tend to show our best selves on social media, myself included, so I can only hope pictures are worth a thousand words and you are truly happy.
You may have noticed from above, but I have removed your last name. There were only 61 people in our graduating class, so I am guessing it won’t be hard for people to figure out who I am talking about in this letter. You should know this; if I get any indication whatsoever that you want this post removed, please do not hesitate to ask. I will gladly do it. No questions asked.
Sara, over the last 16 years, you have crossed my mind on many occasions. It usually happens when I am watching something like the documentary, “Bully,” or if I ever bear witness to some example in pop culture or in my daily life of a person/group of people using their power to hold another person in their “supposed” place. I think about the pain, anguish, and loneliness one must feel when they are in that position. Sara, I think of my own brother, Lucas, who completed suicide. I think of the intolerable forces, both from within and without, that drove him to such a decision.
In truth Sara, this letter isn’t meant just for you. Rather, I am using you as a representation of all those kids who didn’t get a fair shot, who were treated differently, and weren’t allowed to fully be themselves. I am writing this letter to kids everywhere who know first hand how cruel kids can be. I am also writing this letter to apologize.
On numerous occasions, I had the opportunity to ease some of your burdens. I was in a position of power and influence. When people were making fun, teasing, or bullying, I had the chance to step between you and those doing harm. On numerous occasions, I chose not to do that. Instead, I walked away, hid in my fear, and/or worse, participated. At the time, I knew it was wrong and still chose to do nothing. You weren’t the only person I let down. I let countless others down. I let myself down. I knew what a leader should do, and I didn’t do it. I chose popularity over what was right. I ignored, laughed, or launched my own insults. If you look back on your K-12 experience with anything less than fondness, it is because of guys and girls like me.
High school was an amazing chapter in my life. Each chapter after has built on that experience and been even better. You and those who may have known pain likes yours deserved and deserve to feel the same way. The conformity of teens robbed you of that experience and for that, I am tremendously sorry.
I write this as a 34-year old man. I am gay, out, and proud. I have never known ridicule, judgment, or public shame for being who I am. One day, I hope to marry my boyfriend. I will do so surrounded by people who love and support us. After that, naturally, will come questions about children. Lots of things make me hesitant about having kids. Money, time, and energy are just a few that bubble to the surface, but nothing makes me lean toward a solid no like the way kids treat other kids. Introduce the idea of social media and the fact that it is getting harder for kids to escape their tormentors, then I flat out say no. Born to a bi-racial, gay couple, I can only imagine the hell that would be visited upon his or her doorstep. I can only imagine what that pain feels like. One, because I never experienced such pain. Two, because I don’t really know what it feels like to be bullied. Sara, you and those like you, know better than I do. My lessons were learned from your experiences. Sure, time may change me and instill in me some courage and proper caution. For now, I say no to the idea of having my kids be victims.
In closing Sara, nothing makes me cry more often than seeing someone use their place to purposefully hold someone else back. It seems more often now I am reading books, watching movies/tv, and hearing stories exactly about that concept. These stories have shaped me for the better. They have made me wiser, kinder, and more sympathetic. They have made me want to get down on my knees and apologize to every kid I should have helped. Unfortunately, I can’t fix the past. All I can do is try to make wrongs, right. One of the ways I can do that is by promising to never stand silently by when it happens again. Today, Sara, that is my promise. For that, I thank you.
And one more thing… If you are stumbling across this letter and feel the impulse to congratulate me, let me know I am being too hard on myself, and/or inflate my sense of bravery, don’t. I don’t need those words. I have written this with a sense of clarity. I have written these words from a place of calm and acceptance. Instead of lavishing your praise on a guy like me who doesn’t need it or want it, I implore you to think on your own life. Think of all the Sara’s who occupied space in your timeline. Think of how you could have been better. If you are feeling brave, reach out and apologize. At the very least, promise to be better and promise to raise kids who are better than you were at their age. The cycle of bullying, shaming, and suicide among our teens and young adults will only end when we promise to do just that.
Be good to each other,
I've never asked readers for financial support before. I am committed to keeping content on this site free and open to all. For me, this means no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what I create, please consider making a contribution on Patreon.