Bits and Bites of Everyday Life


It gets better — if we make sure it gets better!

“Adults have a huge responsibility to make sure it gets better for young people.” (Matthew Pearson)

True North Perspective

Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

What an exciting week it has been for the six young writers of Saint-Guillaume! First, Lea and Stéphanie got their first TV experience on the “Ginette Gratton reçoit” show which will air next Wednesday on Rogers TV – cable 23. Their message resonated clearly: BULLYING HURTS! BULLYING MUST STOP! Ginette, a seasoned TV host and a real sweetheart made sure the girls enjoyed their first appearance as young writers who have something to share and are proud of “Le génie de Jessie”.
The next day, the book was launched officially at their school. Being recognized in your own community is so important! My special guest, Angela Verlaeckt Clark, could not make it that night so she sent a poignant testimonial. Angela was bullied during her school days and knows only too well how it can affect your self-esteem and your capacity to succeed in school.
Angela has given me permission to share her story, so I proudly offer it to you, my readers. It was read by my daughter who has always had a strong sense of social justice and worked as a social worker for the Child Protection Agency for many years.
Angela’s story closely resembles that of Matthew Pearson, a journalist, who found reporting on the Jamie Hubley story one of the most difficult assignments he has ever had. Why? Because Jamie’s struggles so closely mirrored his own struggles as a bullied teen growing up in Woodstock that he remained haunted by the story for days! Like Jamie, Matthew Pearson was taunted by schoolmates because he loved drama and preferred the company of girls to the rough-and-tumble competitive sports.
Like Jamie, he changed schools but the problem only got worse. Angela’s story followed the same pattern… always the outsider, the odd one out. In both cases, there was no physical violence but the non-acceptance, the verbal harassment were unbearable.
Thankfully, Angela and Matthew have fond memories of the friends they eventually made! Angela calls them diamonds and credits her friend, Linda, for giving her the place she deserved in life. Matthew recalled visiting with his family, having dinner at a restaurant a few years later and spotting someone who had harassed him mercilessly in high school. He said, “My stomach sank and my hands clammed up.” Angela had a similar reaction when she was invited to a high school reunion and all the buried memories of being bullied resurfaced.
Angela and Matthew testify to the fact that life gets better and you must not let despair bring you down but they send a clear message to students, teachers, parents and coaches that they must intervene when bullying is involved.
I now offer you Angela’s testimonial! Please enjoy and reflect!
Blessings to all!
Diamonds and Rust
By Angela Verlaeckt Clark
Special to True North Perspective
Memories are made of diamonds and rust… This phrase borrowed from a song best describes my school years.
Like rust, bullying is insidious. It begins with an action or a word... and others, who want to be 'liked' or 'in with the group', join the taunting. They discover that little something about you that is different and it becomes their “cause célèbre”!
In my case, my Dad was often transferred by his company and we moved from city to city. Always the new girl... I had no social roots with the kids at whatever new school I was attending. And, I was shy, so I didn’t speak up for myself. I wore ugly glasses, practiced the wrong religion, spoke the wrong language... It really didn't take much!
Teachers often set the mood at school! Sixteen years after WW2, my name sounded German... In fact, they were mistaken...the name was Belgian! I was forced to stand, shy as I was, and repeat and spell my name 'V-E-R-L-A-E-C-K-T' over and over, while the teacher wrote it on the chalkboard, taking up all of the six-foot length, top to bottom! I nearly died of embarrassment! It wasn't too surprising that only the kids who were outsiders wanted to be my friends! Who wanted to get on the wrong side of a teacher?
I lived in Quebec’s northern areas of the province where French was predominant. There, I was the “protestant tête carrée”. In more anglophone areas, I acted too French and dated French boys. Quelle horreur! I felt alone and miserable without the support from my teachers. I hated school and so, my marks slid. Then I made a friend, an outsider, who didn't seem to care if I fit in or not! She became the diamond in my life. I never told her this, but her support and caring carved out a place “pour moi” in this world and instilled a burgeoning belief in “me”!
Time moves forward and sadly, I can still name those kids and teachers who were cruel! Fortunately, diamonds shine more brightly and Linda is still my friend. More importantly, she is the most caring of teachers. She is changing things...making a difference.
Recently, I was invited to my high school reunion. All the old feelings surfaced like rust and I discussed it for the first time with my brother. He told me how he hated moving and why! He had been beaten outside the school, at the end of each school day, for no other reason than 'he was the new kid'! We had never shared what we had experienced, perhaps because of the age difference. He was younger and we both thought we had been alone in our misery. We had never shared our secret!
Now, my life is wonderful! I am married to a man who is proud of my accomplishments. We have two, well-adjusted adult children. We have traveled to Africa, Sri Lanka, Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, the British Isles and all over Europe. We have lived in the UK, the United States and here, in Canada. I am proud to be bilingual.
My school years forced me to go deep inside myself in search of spirituality and empathy. I have used that empathy in my art and poetry. Today, I am a successful stone sculptor and poet. I am in the library and archives of the National Gallery of Canada. My art is featured in a prominent art gallery on Sussex Drive. I sell my work at the international level and will soon publish a second book.
You can shake off the rust that threatens to define you with the help of a few diamonds in your life. I did! In closing, I ask: “Wouldn't you rather be remembered as the diamond in someone's life instead of nasty rust?”
Bullying has to STOP!
Bullying begins and ends with you: the students and teachers!
My wish to you: “May you find a diamond to see you through!”