Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Taking a Stand

It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.

Elizabeth Henry

The summer before fifth grade, my world was turned upside down when my family moved from the country town where I was born and raised to a town near the beach. When school began, I found it difficult to be accepted by the kids in my class who seemed a little more sophisticated, and who had been in the same class together since first grade.

I also found this Catholic school different from the public school I had attended. At my old school, it was acceptable to express yourself to the teacher. Here, it was considered outrageous to even suggest a change be made in the way things were done.

My mom taught me that if I wanted something in life, I had to speak up or figure out a way to make it happen. No one was going to do it for me. It was up to me to control my destiny.

I quickly learned that my classmates were totally intimidated by the strict Irish nuns who ran the school. My schoolmates were so afraid of the nuns’ wrath that they rarely spoke up for themselves or suggested a change.

Not only were the nuns intimidating, they also had some strange habits. The previous year, my classmates had been taught by a nun named Sister Rose. This year, she came to our class to teach music several times a week. During their year with her, she had earned the nickname Pick-Her-Nose-Rose. My classmates swore that during silent reading, she’d prop her book up so that she could have herself a booger-picking session without her students noticing. The worst of it, they told me, was that after reading was over, she’d stroll through the classroom and select a victim whose hair would be the recipient of one of her prize boogers. She’d pretend to be praising one of her students by rubbing her long, bony fingers through their hair! Well, to say the least, I did not look forward to her sort of praise.

One day during music, I announced to Sister Rose that the key of the song we were learning was too high for our voices. Every kid in the class turned toward me with wide eyes and looks of total disbelief. I had spoken my opinion to a teacher—one of the Irish nuns!

That was the day I gained acceptance with the class. Whenever they wanted something changed, they’d beg me to stick up for them. I was willing to take the punishment for the possibility of making a situation better and of course to avoid any special attention from Pick-Her-Nose-Rose. But I also knew that I was being used by my classmates who just couldn’t find their voices and stick up for themselves.

Things pretty much continued like this through sixth and seventh grades. Although we changed teachers, we stayed in the same class together and I remained the voice of the class.

At last, eighth grade rolled around and one early fall morning our new teacher, Mrs. Haggard—not a nun, but strict nevertheless—announced that we would be holding elections for class representatives. I was elected vice-president.

That same day, while responding to a fire drill, the new president and I were excitedly discussing our victory when, suddenly, Mrs. Haggard appeared before us with her hands on her hips. The words that came out of her mouth left me surprised and confused. “You’re impeached!” she shouted at the two of us. My first reaction was to burst out laughing because I had no idea what the word “impeached” meant. When she explained that we were out of office for talking during a fire drill, I was devastated.

Our class held elections again at the beginning of the second semester. This time, I was elected president, which I took as a personal victory. I was more determined than ever to represent the rights of my oppressed classmates.

My big opportunity came in late spring. One day, the kids from the other eighth-grade class were arriving at school in “free dress,” wearing their coolest new outfits, while our class arrived in our usual uniforms: the girls in their pleated wool skirts and the boys in their salt-and-pepper pants. “How in the world did this happen?” we all wanted to know. One of the eighth graders from the other class explained that their teacher got permission from our principal, Sister Anna, as a special treat for her students.

We were so upset that we made a pact to go in and let our teacher know that we felt totally ripped off. We agreed that when she inevitably gave us what had become known to us as her famous line, “If you don’t like it, you can leave,” we’d finally do it. We’d walk out together.

Once in the classroom, I raised my hand and stood up to speak to our teacher. About eight others rose to show their support. I explained how betrayed we felt as the seniors of the school to find the other eighth-graders in free dress while we had to spend the day in our dorky uniforms. We wanted to know why she hadn’t spoken on our behalf and made sure that we weren’t left out of this privilege.

As expected, instead of showing sympathy for our humiliation, she fed us her famous line, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” One by one, each of my classmates shrank slowly back into their seats. Within seconds, I was the only one left standing.

I began walking out of the classroom, and Mrs. Haggard commanded that I continue on to the principal’s office.

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