Editorial: 2 crowning moments

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 1, 2012

We’ve grown accustomed to stories of student bullying or harassment that come to a sad or even tragic conclusion — episodes that leave us discouraged, demoralized and shaking our heads at the cruelties humans are capable of inflicting upon one another.
        So when one – no, make that two – such incidents take a stunningly uplifting turn, it’s worth holding up for broader examination. These two recent events may have come to your attention, but have you really paused to appreciate the message they send about the courage, compassion and big-heartedness of the students involved?
Cue the homecoming court, and give a round of applause for Lincoln County High freshman Zharia Link. Nominated to the homecoming court, she couldn’t believe her good fortune. As she herself notes, she doesn’t fit the stereotypical homecoming mold – she’s a big girl from a family of modest means, not the svelte and bubbly blonde cheerleader type usually chosen for such roles.
“Why me?” she wondered – and then learned it was a cruel prank orchestrated by some students bent on humiliating her. But here’s where the the story veers from the typical trajectory of harassment ordeals. As news of the dumb “joke” spread, the school and community rallied around Zharia. Students organized to give her a rousing ovation at a homecoming pep rally; donors kicked in to make sure she was decked out and looking great for the event itself. Handed a dandy of a lemon, they turned it into swirls of chiffon.
And Zharia herself demonstrated a depth of character and maturity beyond her years. “It was a big joke to them, but not a joke to me,” she told the Charlotte Observer. “I told myself: They’re not going to win. I’m going through with this.”
Meanwhile, a similar incident was unfolding at Ogemaw Heights High near West Branch, Mich. The intended homecoming “victim” this time was 16-year-old Whitney Kopp, and she told CNN that when she initially realized her selection was a prank, she became suicidal and “felt like trash.”
But, as happened at Lincoln High, family and friends urged her to not to abdicate. And in this case, too, there was an outpouring of community support, including financial donations to defray homecoming costs and a Facebook page that drew almost 100,000 “likes.”
“I can just prove all these kids wrong,” Whitney told herself. “I’m not the joke everyone thinks I am.”
Bullying and harassment are a daily occurrence for some students, and these two stories don’t change the emotional anguish of that reality. But they do offer powerful lessons about the possibilities when beleaguered students, their peers and the community seize the higher ground. Bullying is no joking matter, but it’s still uplifting to see intended targets enjoy the last laugh.