Special. Unique. Individual. One-of-a-kind. Category is: words that a plethora of people have used to describe Allie O'Brien (me).
Throughout most of my life, the "one-of-a-kind" compliment has come up quite a bit. I have often worried that this would be the only type of positive attention I would ever receive. Growing up, I was a very shy child with a crippling fear of social failure which inevitably led to me being described as "unique," often said along with a slightly disapproving head nod. Teachers, parents and students alike deemed me an anomaly in the classroom, one who did not wish to play house with the girls or kickball with the boys but often preferred to play on the swings by herself. I was not assertive and almost never spoke up in class to the point at which my only negative academic feedback was a lack of classroom participation. I didn't just part with my peers on the issue of introversion, I also held close several interests that did not seem to intrigue them. For instance, when I was in the fifth grade I watched the Super Bowl for the first time, not because I had some awakening regarding sports, but because The Rolling Stones were performing at half time. To my despair, I could not discuss my delight at the performance in school without mild ridicule at best and out right mockery at worst. Apparently the Stones are an "old man band" and as a young person, I should not be listening to them.
Middle school was much of the same, however, I did gain some courage by standing up to the people who bullied me. While quiet and shy for most of the day, I became sassy and assertive with those who ridiculed me, only giving them even more reason to ridicule. With the help of my more confident friends, I would express myself more loudly and actually started to show my personality. This change didn't lead to me being let into the in-group, though--I was still at best unique, and at worst, weird. I would become very offended by the boys in my grade who made fun of me, called me by unflattering nicknames, and otherwise attempted to bother me. My hair at the time was a lion's mane, frizzy and red, so I was an easy target for bullies. Unfortunately, the strong way in which I reacted to this unwanted attention only added fuel to the fire. I couldn't stand the thought that I was being pointed out for something different (my hair, in many cases), so I would react with obvious despair and even tears. This was what the bullies wanted: to "other" me, to put me into a different category than the rest of the students so that whenever someone called me "unique," I would feel sadness and loneliness instead of appreciation.
In high school, performing in the color guard section of our marching band was something I enjoyed greatly and spent quite some time on. Before joining, however, I did not realize the disdain with which non band geeks regarded marching band and color guard in particular. Popular opinion ranged from complete ignorance to the fact that our school even had a band to outright mockery at football games. My friends and I even had people tell us to our faces that they think color guard was "weird." No one ever gave me a solid, logical reason as to why the activity was so strange somehow. Although I loved color guard, these negative opinions did get to me at times and I would question my choice to participate. One night at a game, I looked up into the bleachers and saw my math teacher watching and smiling. The next day in class, she personally congratulated me on a good performance, in essence pointing out my uniqueness. The difference was that this time, I felt proud of my uniqueness and appreciated the fact that I am an individual.
In college, I sometimes hear my friends describe me as someone who always stays true to herself and doesn't follow the crowd. At this point in my life, I can finally appreciate these words as compliments. For all of you "special" and "unique" "individuals" out there--don't worry, difference is only mocked for a little while. In the grand scheme of things, it is much better to stand out than fit in.