Thank you Tyler Clementi

That name may ring a bell…or not. If you don’t remember the case, Tyler Clementi was a student at Rutgers University. His roommate taped him kissing another boy and posted a message online for a viewing party the next day. The party never occurred. Tyler jumped from the George Washington bridge the day after he was filmed.
Now you may realize the profound impact this story has on me, or anyone with empathy for that matter, but his death changed my life. As a teacher at Carman-Ainsworth high school in Flint, MI, I try to find current news articles to share with my students each week. The week Tyler died, something urged me to find a copy of his story and share it with my students who face cyber-bullying every time they log into Facebook, Twitter, or even Insta-gram. We started reading it in class, they ‘talked to the text,’ me modeling the process for those who struggle with that reading strategy. It was homework that night, and due the next day. When they turned the article in we had a brief chat, but nothing memorable. Eagerly I took the stack of highlighted articles home that night and sat down to grade after my kids were asleep. A girl I had found very insightful and friendly wrote in one of the margins, “We should do this,” referring to a bullying awareness club that Rutgers had started a week or so after his death. I remember commenting, “Do it!” After reading many emotional reactions and personal connections, including LGBT kids who had not come out yet, I checked Blackboard to see what type of discussion was happening online. An inquisitive boy from a different hour than the girl had posted a message something along the lines of, “Is anyone interested in forming some kind of group here at Carman?” Immediately I connected the two students and so began EFA, Empathy for All.

This group formed at a time when I needed something more in my life. Appearances illustrated that I had it all: two beautiful, well-behaved kids, an amazing teaching career, a children’s book I had just published, supportive parents, a blessed life, but inside I was screaming. My husband was always away serving our country, and when he was home it was a tough transition. We were having problems, together as a partnership, and also with separate issues internally. This school group gave me a focus, rather a direction, for my life. I became a better listener to kids who desperately needed to share their stories of bullying, harassment, and abuse with an adult who would take the time to listen. In turn, I became a better listener to my partner who had been trying to tell me things for years. This group empowered me to think about my actions and what I say before reacting immediately as was my typical Shay (maiden name) response. This group showed me that I can make a difference just by asking someone in the hallway, “How was your day today?” This group has taught me the true meaning of empathy…one that I have applied at work, play, and with my loving partner. Without Tyler Clementi’s death, Empathy for All would not have been born. So goes the cycle of life. Without Empathy for All, I may have bore an endless scream.

RIP Tyler Clementi
September 22, 2012

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2 Responses to Thank you Tyler Clementi

  1. Natalie says:

    I love this. Keep changing the world, Carrie!

  2. Dadio says:

    Me and Mom follow our children as much as we can. This sight helps us see into your busy life. Your words are strong, your leadership is point on and your focus and direction is heavenly inspired. Hope we will be around to see this project move mountains. It is already knocking down doors. We Love You!

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