2024 Awardee – Harley Layman – Weber HS

Apr 15, 2024

My story of resilience started at a young age when I lost three of the people most precious to me to Cancer. In the span of a three year time period during my education I lost my best friend, my sister, and one of my grandmothers all to the same disease. Since this time the phrase ‘cancer’ has plagued my life. Day in and day out I hear joking references in the halls and classroom to the disease that ripped my life apart from the core. These three individuals would not be the only ones I would lose to his horrendous word, Cancer. Continuing through my high school education I would proceed to face the challenge of watching Cancer slowly eat away at my greatest role model, and example of compassion, as well as my only remaining family member who I felt treated me as family. My grandmother fought a resilient battle against Cancer, but in the end it took her from this life. Losing my grandmother in lieu of the others I had lost sent me into a spiraling depression. I felt alone, and that I had lost so many chances to share memories with those I loved. Daily I showed up to school in the midst of mourning, and hid my pain behind a smile and forced laugh. Very few people around me knew what I was truly going through, and because of this I was often overlooked as the quiet peer. This not only made it hard for me to make friends, increasing my feelings of loneliness, but also made it hard for me to express the extreme verbal and physical bullying I faced during this time. Walking down the hallway, and in classes with absent teachers, I faced abuse from those around me. From snide comments to being physically slapped or mimicked for my limp retained from a severe injury I faced in elementary school, I felt my confidence deteriorating. Due to these factors I began experiencing extremely depressive thoughts and moods. I entered stages of anorexia and other eating disorders because I felt unworthy.

As I became more aware of the definition of what I was experiencing I realized that I was plagued by something that was eating away at me as cancer had eaten away at those I loved. Depression. At first, I truly struggled to wrap my mind around this mental illness that had become a part of my life. However, as a member of HOPE Squad, I realized that I was not my mental illness. As I accepted that I was struggling with the exact thing I attempted to help my peers face themselves, I was enlightened that I already had the necessary skills to fight this battle. I found the confidence in myself to open up to my peers about what I was facing, and the courage to indirectly stand up to those who bullied me. I referred myself to my school counselor and HOPE Squad advisor, and realized that even though I was struggling myself, I was still a valuable member of the organization. This brought me strength to turn my story into one of success. I practiced daily gratitude for the things I did have in my life, learned to open up to those that could help me understand what was going on in my life, and found better people to surround myself with that supported me in my silent battles.

I stand here today, a graduating senior, and find myself excited to be able to attend graduation after facing many days and nights that I didn’t think I could make it to this day. To my peers around me, please, do not be ashamed to say that you are struggling with mental illness, or eating disorders. Do not be afraid to talk to those who are there to support you. And most of all, accept yourself for who you are. Just like snowflakes, we are each unique individuals with our own attributes. When you look at the bigger picture the people that surround you now are only a piece of your chapter, not your whole story. Don’t let the negativity of those who try to bring you down control your entire story. Let yourself turn the page and grow stronger from the experiences that you go through, and never, ever give up. You are not defined by your struggles, and there is always a way to grow and overcome these trials.

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