Throughout my entire life, I have been told time and time again that I am extremely nice. Sometimes, people even tell me that I’m too nice; especially to people who “don’t deserve it.” I get a lot of people asking me, “but why?”

The answer is simple: I know what it is like to feel neglected, friendless and bullied. I know what it is like to have everybody I have tried to befriend turn me down and make fun of me. That kind of lonely experience has made it very easy for me to look into the eyes of somebody not well-liked, choose to be friendly and simply say “hi.”

Middle School is hard for everybody. Everyone is trying their very best to fit in; wearing the latest trend, putting on the makeup, trying to make it on to the most popular sports teams. Every kid wants to be considered part of the ”popular crowd.” This also means avoiding the socially awkward and “nerdy” oddballs who showed up at school. That was me. I was the oddball.

Having had attended only private schools in the past, I had only ever had to wear the same uniform every day. My outfit was picked out for me, and in elementary school, nobody really cared how your hair was cut or what jewelry you wore. When I entered public school for the first time in sixth grade, I didn’t really know how to put together a matching outfit. I was also a huge tomboy and had my hair cut short. It was a “boy’s” haircut. Everything about me was the opposite of what was considered cool. To make matters worse, I moved into the school in the middle of the year. Everybody else had known each other since the beginning of the year; often enough, even years before that.

Twelve and 13 year olds in middle school are anything but discreet, and it was very easy to notice the other kids whispering to each other and giggling. At the time, I didn’t really know what they were giggling about. However, I eventually came to the realization that the giggles, whispers and mockery were about me. There I stood in my cargo shorts, an oversized T-shirt and crocs, with my thick glasses and short hair. To top it all off, I made it worse by talking about all my nerdy and unpopular interests of dinosaurs, science fiction and fantasy right off the bat. I got weird looks, people were laughing at me and when lunch time came around, nobody wanted to sit with me. Being the socially awkward girl that I was, and not realizing that people really didn’t want to hang out with me, I attempted to push my way into conversations and recess games. People didn’t take too well to that. I was the middle school freak.

Over the course of my stay at that particular school, I was openly teased, laughed at, name-called, pranked and was the butt of sexual jokes that, as a seventh grader, I didn’t even understand. The look on my parents’ faces when I asked them what those things meant will forever be ingrained in my brain.

Then a new girl moved in. As usual, I introduced myself to her right away. She was nice, but I thought that after she saw how the other kids treated me, she would resort to the same thing. To my surprise and delight, she didn’t. Even though we didn’t hang out that often, she ate lunch with me some days, openly expressed interest in my mood and my day and after a few months, she even invited me to her Bat Mitzvah; a Jewish coming of age ceremony. What made it all even more astonishing to me, was that she didn’t do it because she was lonely and wanted a friend. Everybody seemed to really like her. Still, she decided against to go against the status quo and befriend me. Years later, I still remember everything about her. She made everything about the couple of years I spent at that school much more wonderful to look back on.

Middle school is tough, and I am sure that the kids who bullied me have changed since then, just as I have. The people who know me now would have never recognized me in my middle school years. Many people may even be surprised to hear about the younger 13-year-old me and deny I could have ever been like that. However, the impression that girl had on me taught me one of the most valuable lessons yet: be kind. You may not want to hang out with the “oddball,” and that’s OK. However, if you can put aside what others may think when they see you speaking to the “oddball,” please remember that simply smiling and expressing an interest in how their day is going will often make up for their frequent, terribly lonely days.