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“I Want Them to Set a Good Example”

One teen leader calls for respect and civility in political life — among adults on all sides

November 16, 2016
two adults shaking hands

I was bullied when I was just eight years old. I experienced stomach spasms and panic attacks. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed, and I began taking anti-depressants as a third grader. Because of this experience, I have spent the past five years standing up for kindness and fighting against cruelty.

As my family and I watched the presidential race, we talked openly around the dinner table about the issues and our commitment to building positive school and community climates. We talked about the candidates and who we felt had the same goals. My dad supported Donald Trump, but my mom wrestled with who she would support. All along the way, both of my parents encouraged me to decide for myself. Ultimately, my mom supported Hillary Clinton, and she was invited by filmmaker Lee Hirsch, who directed the documentary Bully, to participate in a national advertisement for Secretary Clinton. I wanted to show my support, so I took part as well. That spot ran just four days but was seen by nearly a half a million people on Facebook alone.

How people responded to our choice to speak up was both satisfying and disappointing. Many of my classmates were passionate Donald Trump supporters. They wore "Make America Great" hats and shirts to school. Others were handing out Trump flyers. They didn't like Hillary Clinton and they said things that made me uncomfortable. I didn't tell them that I was a supporter of hers. But after our commercial was shown, not one student made fun of me. And after Mr. Trump was elected, not one person tried to embarrass me on Wednesday morning when I returned to school.

These past five years I’ve heard adults say they want my generation to be nice, but I don't always see that mirrored in their behavior. I see some of my friends’ parents, my neighbors, and business leaders saying and doing things that are very different from what I would expect of them and very different from how I suspect they see themselves.

Sadly, my mom didn't have the same experience. While several people offered their appreciation and most of those who didn't agree were respectful and quiet, there were some who lashed out. The most hateful were people close to her. There were those who wanted her punished. She received mean phone calls and hateful comments.

These past five years I’ve heard adults say they want my generation to be nice, but I don't always see that mirrored in their behavior. I see some of my friends’ parents, my neighbors, and business leaders saying and doing things that are very different from what I would expect of them and very different from how I suspect they see themselves. I want them to set a good example and to lead the way for me. My friends and I know that we can have differences but still respect one another. I want that for my mom and her generation. I want that for all of us.

My class watched Donald Trump’s speech the day after the election, and I was happy to hear what he had to say. He promised to serve all Americans and he invited those who didn't vote for him to join him. I am going to do just that. And so is my mom. I know Melania Trump has already pledged to take on cyber bullying, and I am hopeful that President-elect Trump will do something wonderful to address bullying as well. I want him to be successful because all Americans will benefit if he is. I want him to do good things. Why would I want him to be anything less than his best self? Why would anyone want him to fail?

My parents taught me to respect our President. That doesn’t mean we always have to agree with him or her. I know I don't always agree with my parents, but I believe in them. And I am going to choose to believe in our new president.

I hope the adults around me do the same thing. After all, I want a better world for myself and for my parents. I want to live in a country where I can disagree with another American and I won't be belittled or hated. I have faith in my generation. I hope the adults who are making decisions in my community and in my life will find that same faith in each other.

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About the Author

Morgan Guess
Morgan Guess is an eighth grader at Lone Oak Middle School in Paducah, Kentucky. She has been a member of the Youth Advisory Board at Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and was recently named a Hasbro Community Action Hero.
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Civics and History Diversity and Inclusion Parenting and Community