Name: Stephanie Rivera
Age: 22 Years old
Education: B.A. in Political Science, Currently in the Rutgers Graduate School of Education pursuing masters degree in Social Studies Education.
Current Occupation: Student, camp counselor, graduate assistant.
- Volunteer Tutor at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility
- Co-Founder of Students United for Public Education
- Co-Founder and Co-President of Rutgers 1st Undergraduate Organization focused on future teachers and education, Future Teachers Association
- Founding member of StuVoice.org
- Mentor at New Brunswick High School through the Rutgers Future Scholars Program
- Youngest Candidate for New Brunswick’s Board of Education April 16th Election
- TEDxNYED 2013 Speaker
To start off: I never imagined being the person I am today.
Let me give you a little quick synopsis of how I grew up. I was bullied all my life about my weight–165 pounds, 4 feet and 10 inches, at 13 years old. You get the picture. As most people can guess, I learned to hate myself–a lot. Value was put on what I looked like, I grew up believing, “It’s the outside that counts,” regardless of those supposed-to-be-sincere pep talks. I learned to be disgusted with who I am. I didn’t know how to properly deal with it, my family also criticized me for my weight. Barely a teenager, I was extremely vulnerable. With that being said, I wanted it to just stop, so I took the easy way out: just be nice to everyone, even the ones who tear you apart. I went along with the crowd, did what people told me to do, was extra nice, stayed quiet, in other words, disappearing was my comfort zone, my safe haven.
Who knew that fear would carry on with me until I was in college.
Aside from the psychological and physical drain it had on me, it drowned the voice out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I was outgoing. I tried to be funny, yes, I definitely did talk. But, I’m talking in regards to my mind and my thoughts. Yes, I did do very well in school, I studied hard, but rarely did I raise my hand, or ever really get engaged in class discussions. It was the constant fear of, “What if that’s wrong?” “What if that’s stupid?” “What if the teacher doesn’t agree?” I remember one of my friends even called me out on it–“You never have an opinion of your own, stop agreeing with everything I say.” I didn’t really think much about it, I was just, you know, “trying to be nice.” I was too concerned of people not being mean to me, I just wanted to be liked.
This past year I have broken free from this comfort zone.
Blogging has allowed me to openly share my thoughts, my opinions. It was no longer about people liking me, it was about doing what I love. The issues I initially wanted to bring exposure to was the focus, not the fear of not being liked. Still, to this very moment, I sometimes cannot believe how many people have thanked me for my blog. How many people have seen my blog, shared it with others. When I created this blog, I don’t know, I hoped it would get big, but never really expected it to. It is a unique and incomparable feeling when people start applauding you for your mind. For once in my life, I have learned to put value on my thoughts and my brain, rather than the way I look in the mirror. It is refreshing, and extremely empowering. Blogging has helped become so aware of particular issues and the truth, that I am so compelled and driven of exposing it, the fear to share them disappears.
I want to become a teacher, and of course, provide opportunities for students to empower themselves. But how could I have expected to do that if I couldn’t even empower myself? Finding my voice and the ability to value my mind’s ability to critically think is one of my most valuable achievements. It has helped recreate who I am, and become a better and stronger person–this is the type of teacher I want to be for my students.