The fifth grade was a year of firsts for me. I wore glasses for the first time, had my first complexion breakout and it was my first year in public school.
I attended a small private Christian school up until that year.
And the difference was vast.
For the first couple of months, I felt lost. The learning curve was great and I struggled to fit in and find friends. I was behind in Mathand ahead in Language Arts.
Eventually, I found a friend or two and some acceptance.
But I will never forget the day that I found me.
Since fifth graders were on the cusp of middle school, a special speaker was invited to hold an assembly to help prepare us.
I was excited to have a break from the classroom and I remember filing in with the other fifth grade classes. I sat down on the gym floor and listened as the speaker began.
He was enthusiastic and charismatic. And funny. He started out telling jokes and made us feel comfortable. ”I’d like to do a little experiment. Can I have a volunteer?” he asked.
I don’t know what possessed me to raise my hand. I was pretty introverted and lacked a lot of self-esteem. But I raised my hand eagerly with everyone else.
And he picked me from the one hundred students.
He asked me to come to the stage.
I was a giddy mixture of fear and delight. I hated that everyone stared at me and loved it all at the same time.
“What’s your name?” he asked. I answered into the microphone.
“Can you go with my assistant to another room? It’s part of my experiment,” he said.
And so I did, nervously. I was only gone for a minute or two and then we returned to the gymnasium.
“Welcome back, Kristen. We have just one question for you. It’s very simple. Okay?”
I nodded my head.
He flipped over a giant chalkboard and said, “Do you see these two lines?”
I looked at the lines on the board. One was long, one was short. That was it.
“Yes,” I croaked.
“All you have to do is tell me which line is shorter. Can you do that?”
Well, of course I could. I remember thinking that’s it?
I pointed to the shorter line and said, “That one.”
As soon as I said it, the other kids started whispering.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I looked again, “Yes.”
The speaker asked the boys and girls to tell me if I was right.
One-hundred pair of eyes stared me down and they started yelling, “No, that’s not it. It’s the other one.”
The sound was deafening. I walked around and looked from a different angle. I squinted. I looked confused.
The kids continued to point and scream, “Choose the other one!”
And then I did the unthinkable when the speaker said, “Do you want to change your mind?”
I changed it. I picked the longer of the two, even though I knew it was wrong.
And that’s when everyone let me in on the secret. The kids were told to pressure me to choose the other line.
“Thank you, Kristen. You can sit down. By changing your mind, you proved that peer pressure is powerful.”
I was dumbfounded. Speechless. I sat down in shock as the speaker continued on about the dangers of giving in to peer pressure. I didn’t listen closely because I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Something happened deep within me that day.
I was disappointed that I changed what I knew was right to make other people happy. But I also vowed in my heart that day to never give in. I would be strong, no matter the pressure.
That’s the day I found my voice.
That’s the day I became me.
Originally published on 4tunate