Riverview Middle School eighth grade students had the opportunity last week to play host to a former beauty queen, Ivy League graduate and congressional hopeful.
"We're excited to have Miss America speak to the kids. It's important for them to hear that you can make it. With them hearing it, you're a middle school kid, you want to be great," said Riverview Principal Bill Zadernak. "How do you dream that big? She's not just Miss America. She's an Ivy League graduate."
As part of her anti-bullying tour of schools across the country, Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, spoke with Riverview Middle students on Dec. 12 about the dangers and hardships of bullying.
"Who makes it to be Miss America? Most people think homecoming queen, prom queen or most popular person," Harold said. "But that actually was not my experience. When I was in the ninth grade, I got bullied a lot."
The bullying started out small at first, she said, but ultimately grew to the point where she had to change schools, after having her home vandalized to the point of multiple police calls.
"Maybe you can relate to how I felt, with people saying your hair isn't right or your weight isn't right. It's stupid, but people pick on you for things you can't control," she said. "When I left that school, I decided that I was going to be the person to stand up for myself and not let what anyone else said about me define me."
Harold challenged the students to be people of courage and stand up to bullies in the school.
"I've heard good things about your school. Walking into this school, it's clear that you have great teachers and people that care about you," she said. "You are people that want to treat others with respect."
Students agreed with Harold that bullying is a real problem.
"Bullying is a really serious problem. It causes kids to go home and self-harm and it's not good," said eighth grader Carter Whaley. "They need to stop. Bullying is really the reason why it happens."
Harold said it was because of outspoken students like Whaley, a difference in schools could be made.
"I come across a lot of young people as I travel around the country. Because [students like Whaley] have such good personalities, [they] have the ability to make a difference."