I know a good number of you were participating in the Ontario Model Parliaiment at Queens Park last week, so you were not here on Friday when Old Boy, Ben Peterson, talked to us about an organization he co-founded, JHR, Journalists for Human Rights. Ben told us the story of how he became a journalist, how he witnessed terrible human rights violations in Africa, and what he did to make a difference, especially in Liberia, a country where women were brutally beaten on the streets by their husbands while others cheered. Ben came to the conclusion that, if you could direct an intense media spotlight on human rights issues, you had a chance to address them, and that’s how he is trying to make a difference.
As laudable as Ben’s story was, I confess that I was also struck when he talked candidly about his own short-lived career at UCC. He admitted that his years at UCC were one of the toughest times in his life. He was in the bottom of the class at the Prep. He wasn’t athletic, and he found himself the constant but of jokes. A self-described social outcast, Ben left UCC in Grade 9, and then went on to North Toronto, before experiencing great success at Queens and then at the London School of Economics.
Ben said: “Too many of us only see the world from the top-down. If you look bottom-up, it’s amazing what you’ll find. My experience of being bullied at UCC helped me understand deep emotional scars in others. It helped me become more compassionate, especially as I saw human rights violations in Africa.”
I hope that no one in this audience is going through what Ben endured. I think that schools have made strides to address bullying in recent years, but I’d be naïve if I didn’t suspect that, despite our good intentions and best efforts, some guys still get picked on. If you are a bully, of course, stop, and ask yourself why you have a need to be aggressive with someone you perceive as vulnerable. If you are a victim of bullying yourself, or if you think a friend or classmate is being victimized, I hope you’ll do something about it.
I suggest that, even if you aren’t 100% sure but you think someone might be becoming a victim, I hope you’ll talk to an adult about your concern. You don’t even have to give up names. Just go to a teacher or administrator or a nurse or counselor in the Health Centre, someone you feel comfortable talking to — and just describe the situation and ask for advice.
This is a very important subject at all schools, but especially at UCC. This is not a “nice to have” for us — it is a “gots to have” situation. We absolutely, positively have to be a place where EVERYbody feels comfortable, no matter his size, ethnicity, race, religion, orientation, persuasion, inclination, you name it — and we need you to look out for one another, and especially for guys who may sometimes be victimized by others who are more aggressive.
Ben Peterson talked about trying to make a difference, but he also stressed, quite wisely, that you don’t have to go to Liberia to start doing just that. Thank you.