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This I Believe: Being Called Weird is a Compliment

Leilani Essien - Meridian High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Leilani Essien - Meridian High School

“What happened to my outgoing little girl?” It was a question I always found my mom asking me. “She learned that something is wrong with her,” I would always respond in my head. I could never figure out what exactly was wrong with me, but I knew that my peers figured it out: I was out of place.

I felt this for the first time in first grade when I excitedly walked up to my friends, ready to join them for recess – and they turned me away, saying they didn’t want me around that day, so they could have fun. I left, upset, and spent my time walking around the playground alone.

This pattern continued until the third grade, when I moved schools. My mom was optimistic that I would fit in there; but I, on the other hand, was dreading the moment when my classmates would take one look at me and decide I’m not good enough. When the first day of school rolled around, my fears were proven true. I once again spent my recesses alone, but this time on the swings. As I swung, I watched everyone on the playground and listened to their chatter. “I feel like an alien,” I once thought while I watched a group of laughing girls pass by. “Maybe I am an alien.”

After school, I would also sit alone, leaning against the window on a bumpy bus ride. I was doing just that when something cold and wet hit my head. I looked up to see that it was pouring outside, and the windows had been left hanging open. I, along with others on the bus, rushed to close the windows near me. Once I had closed my window, I looked around to see if everything else was shut and caught the eye of a girl with long red hair. “I like your shirt!” I blurted out, surprising myself. I mentally facepalmed. I didn’t even actually like her shirt! Why did I say that? “Thanks,” she said smiling, and suddenly my blatant lie didn’t seem to matter anymore. “My name’s Lydia, what’s yours?”

Lydia became my first real friend. She never asked me to leave her alone, and she always laughed at my jokes. Being odd didn’t seem to matter anymore because I had someone to be odd with. When Lydia would get called weird, she would always reply, “Thank you, That’s a compliment.” I started saying that as well – and eventually started to believe it.

When middle school came about, we went to different schools, but I still carried her words with me. I kept growing my confidence and became OK with standing out. I started joining activities like Drama Club, and I even became a cheerleader last year. It has now been 10 years since I met Lydia, and I still believe being called weird is a compliment.

This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, BLH Computers, Illinois Times, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and Mary Beth & Harvey M. Stephens.

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