This past February, SCN launched its first student-written column. Since then, SCN has published the third- and second-place winners in the “This I Believe” essay-writing contest. Now, SCN is pleased to present below, the unabridged, First Place winning essay by Haley Gipson.
The contest, held twice annually and offered through SHS and Stockbridge Friends of the Library, engages Stockbridge High School students in an exploration of the core beliefs guiding their daily lives.
High school sophomore Gipson, in addition to honing her talents as a writer, participates in athletics and music. She recently received, among other awards, the 2019 Jackson Symphony Guild’s largest scholarship, the Stephen Osmond Scholarship. (See Stockbridge High School student wins multiple music awards, SCN, May 1, 2019.)
According to Carol Hatch, Gipson’s past choir director, “She exudes kindness and acceptance of others with the ability to live her many successes humbly. Her self-sacrificing character makes Haley a valuable addition to our school and to me as a forever friend!”
Here it is. The long-awaited First Place winning essay:
This I believe: You can’t control what other people think about you, but you can control your reaction
by Haley Gipson
“But I’m not gay,” I protested, slamming my locker shut and walking down the hall toward the cafeteria.
“You don’t have to be. It’s the Gay Straight Alliance, get it?” my friend responded sarcastically, giving me a sideways smile as we approached the door. “Haley,” he paused before beginning in a more serious tone, “we need more people, and I think it would be great for you. Come on. Just consider it.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it,” I laughed, refraining from making the various excuses that were racing through my mind. Pushing open the door, a gust of cool fall air greeted us as we both stepped onto the wet pavement.
“See you tomorrow,” he shouted, turning back and giving me a wave.
“You too,” I muttered waving back as our family minivan pulled up to the curb.
My icy hands clasped the handle of the car door as I yanked it open and heaved my bookbag onto the back seat. Walking around, I opened the passenger door and slid into the front seat. As I clipped on my seatbelt, my dad asked me how my day went, but instead of jumping into a recount of my day, I paused, flashing back to the conversation I had just had. Thinking it over in that split second, I decided to ask my dad about it and see if he had the same reservations I did about joining the club. I’m sure he would just say I was overthinking it, but I figured it might make me feel better to hear him say it. I decided to just rip the band-aid off and tell him.
“I’m thinking about joining GSA,” I said bluntly, catching his attention.
“What’s that?” he asked reaching for a bottle of water. I unscrewed the cap and passed it over to him.
“It’s this new club at school that my friends want me to join. GSA stands for Gay Straight Alliance, and they’re meeting next week.”
“Sounds great,” my dad laughed. “But if you join, you’ll never get a boyfriend.” His response caught me off guard, but as I thought about it, I realized what he was trying say.
“You mean, everyone is going to think I’m gay? But what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” he laughed again, but with a little less energy.
This put an end to the conversation, but my dad’s words continued to stick with me the whole car ride home and for the rest of the evening. I knew he had been teasing me about an uncomfortable subject, but was he right? Was everybody in school going to think I was gay? And so what if they did. Did I really care?
My dad is one of the most open-minded people I know, so for him to be averse to my joining the club was surprising. I was sure he was going to be the person to finally convince me to join, yet all he did was echo every fear I already had. But the truth was, he was right. People were going to judge me for being part of GSA and make assumptions about me.
Everyone always tells you not to care what others think about you, but how can you completely get rid of that influence? It’s natural to want to be liked and fit in, but you shouldn’t have to pretend to be something you’re not just for the approval of others.
So the real question was not “was everybody in school going to think I was gay?” but, “was I going to let what other people think about me dictate my life?”
The tough thing about high school is that you have classes with some people, lunch with others, and sports with yet another group. All these people are your friends while you’re together in the group. However, sometimes they will act like they don’t even know you when you see them in a different situation. People clique up because they are afraid of being judged or excluded.
My friends who asked me to join the GSA are different. They trusted me enough to tell me something very personal about themselves. They took a risk on me, not knowing if I would accept them or ridicule them. That counts for something.
Over the next couple of days, I pushed the GSA issue to the back of my mind not wanting to confront it head-on. I kept going back to that conversation I’d had with my dad, and I realized that I didn’t want to lead my life being afraid of other people’s false perceptions or judgments about me. My friends took a risk on me, and in return I owed it to them to take a risk too.
I believe that people can look at me however they want to because I know deep down who I am. You can’t control what other people think about you, but you can control your reaction. I don’t see my friends in GSA as gay or straight, they are just my friends. They are funny, smart, and sometimes a little annoying, but we always have a good time together because in the end, we accept each other without judgment.