Mayor Tara Veer visited St. Francis of Assisi Middle School last week where she told the students a tale of a little girl who was bullied very badly. This little girl was in fact Veer herself.
However after years of bullying she had a life-changing experience that led her to where she is today. Her story began when she was five-years-old after her family and friends asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I would always say I wanted to be a politician – one day I wanted to be the prime minister of Canada,” explained Veer to the Grade 6 students. “From a very young age I always really loved politics and government and I wanted to serve in government so I could help make people’s lives better.”
She explained at this age she always found herself ‘rooting for the underdog’, adding that at her school there was one girl in particular who kids bullied quite badly.
“I really felt a responsibility to be nice to her and stand up for her and help give her a voice,” she told the class. “Every recess I would go protect this girl and I would say ‘Hey! You can’t be mean to her’ until eventually she moved away.”
Veer was involved in her school’s student politics and even started a school newspaper. However after her family moved from one house to another in Red Deer she had to change schools. It was at this new school that Veer experienced what it was like to be the girl who she had once vowed to protect.
“I was in middle school and I didn’t know anyone at my new school and I didn’t make any friends right away,” she explained. “Right from the start at my new school there was this group of kids who started to make fun of me.
“I was confused because all of a sudden instead of being the person who stands up for kids against bullies I was now the one being bullied and I didn’t know what to do with that.”
In the years to come things got much worse before they got better. She told the students that instead of being the outgoing Tara who liked to give her opinion and had the courage to stand up for people she had to become ‘invisible’ to escape her tormenters.
“It started with kids calling me names. I remember one day I walked into school and this group of kids were sitting together in the boot room and they said, ‘Tara we think you’re cool’ and I didn’t know what to say and they all started laughing. Then they said ‘Just kidding we think you’re fat and we think you’re ugly and we think you’re stupid and we want you to go back where you came from’,” she explained.
“That really had a deep effect on me and eventually I really started to believe the things that they said, that I was stupid and that no one wanted me around.”
She told of the days she would open her locker to find it filled full of hateful notes, days where she would be tripped when walking to the front of the class, and always being picked last in gym class.
“Eventually it got to the point where I was invited to a sleep over with some girls who I thought were my friends,” said Veer. “At that sleep over I had long hair and those girls tricked me – they put scissors to my head and they dropped my long hair right in my lap and they said ‘Oops’.”
Again it got worse for Veer in what was truly the last straw for her.
“In fact it got so much worse that by the time I was in early to mid-high school I had to make a speech in class,” said Veer. “When I got up to the front of the room it became apparent to me that the other kids had all coordinated and started to mouth mean things to me while I was trying to do my speech and I ran out of the room crying.
“I said to myself that I will never do another speech again or put myself in the position to be ridiculed in front of people like that again.”
After years of assuming her invisible presence in school and doing her best to avoid ridicule, a teacher came to her and told her of an upcoming public speaking competition and urged her to compete as the teacher said she saw something in her and knew she had potential.
“I told her no way but took the sign-up sheet she gave me anyways – I found myself looking at it every single day but I never signed up for it.” She said. “A couple weeks later the day of the speech contest came, and I woke up that morning and got dressed up as if I was going to compete even though I hadn’t even written a speech.
“I knew the competition was at lunch time and it was quickly approaching so after getting to school something happened and I called my mom begging her to give me a ride to it,” she said.
Veer proceeded to write a first place winning speech on youth bullying and justice on a napkin which she presented in front of hundreds of people including Red Deer’s mayor at the time Gail Surkan who was one of Veer’s idols and Red Deer’s first female mayor.
The first place prize was a trip to Ottawa for Veer with the local MP at the time, Bob Mills. He showed her around the City and it was here that her faith in herself was once again renewed.
“That trip changed my life because once again I fell in love with government,” she told the children. “I realized that nothing had changed back home as far as kids bullying me went but something had changed inside of me because for the first time in a long time I realized that maybe I had something to offer the world after all.”
Her tale of triumph led her to work for Mills following her time in university where she studied criminology until she made the decision to run for City council when she was 26, and eventually come to be the Mayor of Red Deer.