My darling readers, it is an honor for me to praise Beth Cleary. Beth and I were not friends nor were we passing acquaintances. We never even spoke to each other. Yet Beth and I had two things in common. First, we both attended the same high school, when I was a senior Beth was a sophomore.
Unfortunately, the second thing we had in common was we were both verbally humiliated by our schoolmates. As 1 of 4 African American students in my school I was teased because of the color of my skin. Beth was teased because she was nearly 5’11, 300 pounds, pear shaped, her hair looked like brown cotton candy, she wore thick glasses that magnified her crossed eyes and she had an over bite. When students weren’t hurling cruel insults at Beth, they were bombarding racist verbal comments at me. I often wished that I was invisible. Not Beth, she made herself very visible by participating in school activities. When she signed up for choir, a cruel student joked that Beth was so big she would have to wear an army tent as her choir robe. When Beth was a participant on the high school drill team the uniform, she was required to wear was a vibrant orange jacket; black pleated skirt and white ankle boots. During one football half time performance, a student stood and pointed at Beth and yelled out, “Hey, Charlie Brown, there’s the great pumpkin you’ve been waiting for.” Surrounding students roared with laughter and so did I. I laughed because for the moment my fellow students were not verbally assaulting me. I confess to being ashamed of my behavior.
Beth brought attention to herself yet again when she was absent from school for several months. It was because she had cancer. My darlings, it was hard for me to believe that a teenager could have cancer. When Beth finally returned to school her appearance caused a great sensation. She had lost nearly 180 pounds. She had shoulder length honey blonde hair, AND mysteriously her eyes weren’t crossed and no over bite. She was gorgeous. Beth looked as though she had just stepped off the cover of a teen fashion magazine. Her demeanor was so serene. Maybe darlings, it was just my imagination; I swear to all of you, I saw a soft, white light emanating from her body.
Several days later during the morning announcements the Principal sadly announced that Beth had peaceful passed away. He went on to share that when Beth knew she only had a few days to live she made the choice to return to school. She had shown her school spirit by participating on the drill team and she shared her love of singing by being a member of the choir.
After hearing the principal’s remarks, my first selfish thought was that if I only had a few days to live there would be no way I would have spent it surrounded by people who had been so verbally abusive toward me. Later, upon further reflection, I realized, Beth had demonstrated the courage to ignore the ugliness of her school mate’s insults. She had an inner strength that empowered her to persevere and overcome adversity. She had empowered herself and lived her life on her own terms–without approval from anyone else. Her courage inspired me. I honor her memory by telling her story to encourage students who are bullied and teased…
My darling blog readers, since the age of 17, I have kept Beth Cleary in my heart, pledging to keep her legacy alive. I continue to proudly share her legacy of strength, perseverance and empowerment with all of you. It is an honor for me to praise the late great Beth Cleary, who changed my life.