By Jano Tantongco
Before she was a pop star, Meredith O’Connor was a target of bullies.
The Cold Spring Harbor native recently visited Walt Whitman High School to speak with Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center students about the realities of bullying and the power of self-esteem and honesty in overcoming her struggles.
“Growing up was hard because I remember being told that I’m ugly, I’m this, I’m that. The bullying was physical, verbal and… even just being excluded, which is a form of bullying, was the hardest and most painful for me,” O’Connor said.
Now, her mission is to dispel the notion that bullying victims frequently feel: that it’s their fault. She said this can push children into trying to fit in and neglecting the qualities that make them unique. For instance, she said her height made her a target for bullies, but in fact was something that helped her land a modeling contract before her music career took off.
“If somebody’s really smart, really good at math, really good at science, they’re going to make fun of you for that,” O’Connor said. “Bullying is temporary, don’t change what’s not temporary: your talent. If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change.”
At Whitman, she performed some of her hits. They sang along and waved their arms. During one of her performances, she got down from the auditorium stage and walked around the room. After her presentation, she held a meet and greet to sign cards for all the children, as well.
O’Connor thanked the school, as well as her sponsor Ten Tigers Kung-fu Academy based in Huntington.
“We have to work together to change and save these lives,” O’Connor said. “Out of all the 50 schools I’ve ever been to, they really, really care, and I’m not just saying that.”
Silas Wood Principal Stephen Toto said he prides himself on maintaining a dialogue and “opening up” with students to help curb bullying.
“Anti-bullying has always been something on the forefront. We always look for programs that we can bring in that are going to be meaningful and exciting and motivational, which is exactly what we saw today,” Toto said.