Clinton High School’s Maggie Wells stands in front of the entire sixth grade class at Hobbton Middle School decked out in a beautiful blue shimmering dress highlighted by the sparkling crown atop her head. The reigning Miss NC High School immediately gathers attention before even speaking a word to the class. When the words do come from her mouth, they are concise, heartfelt and passionate as she stresses an issue that she wants to see a lot less of — bullying.
“People can bully you without knowing that they are bullying you,” the 17-year-old junior asserted. ” They just feel like they are picking at you, but those words still sting and can stick with you. It can be the smallest things. I think at certain points in my life, people were just mean to me. For me, I have always been resilient, so if someone said something to me, I had the personality to just get up and walk away. For others, it isn’t so easy.”
That is exactly why Wells is bravely in front of the hundreds of Hobbton sixth graders. In the days following, she will make additional appearances, talking with students at Sampson Middle School and Midway Middle as well. Wells says she is determined to help students realize if they are being a bully, a bystander or a person being bullied.
“I wanted to go into the middle schools because I really felt that bullying is starting at a younger age now,” she explained about her presentation. “I figured that because of my age, I could get more students to listen because if I am in school and an adult comes to speak at an assembly, people aren’t disrespectful, but you really can’t relate to them. So, if middle schoolers see another student come in, they know we are all on the same page. It will be a different perspective for them.”
Wells is savvy enough to keep her presentation, which includes a two-minute video, short.
“I don’t make it long because I want to keep their attention,” she explained. “The video is great because I know there are some out there who are the ones who bully, and it just says it simply: if you are the one not listening or laughing or thinks it is stupid, you are the one who is doing the bullying. It is very to the point, which is what I like to be.”
When she is done with her presentation, she has a short Q&A with the students. All are listening intently and participating with the discussion, something that impressed Hobbton Middle School counselor Karen Sinclair.
“I thought she did a very good job,” Sinclair said. “We were so excited that she was coming to speak because this is an issue that we have zero tolerance for here at the school this year. It is a topic that we have focused on because, to be honest, it has become an issue. We have heard it from students and from parent surveys. It is something that is a concern, and to have another student, close to their age, come in and speak is something that seemed perfect for us.”
Assistant principal India Rich-Moultrie agrees.
“To have another student come in here is much more effective than having an adult do it,” she said. “The students can relate so much faster to someone in their same age group. It is good to have their peers sharing things about themselves, and bullying is a topic that everyone can relate to. To get the awareness out there is very important and I think she is doing a good thing.”
Wells, a gifted athlete in her own right, says she entered her first beauty pageant when she was in the eighth grade, and on a whim.
“A lot of my friends just said, let’do it,” she remembered with a laugh. “I was totally unprepared and made up a lot as I went along, but I was pretty proud of myself that I actually did it, because, at the time, I was not one to go in front of people and speak, but I did it. Once I did, I was addicted to it and I always wanted to do my best.”
Through the years, Wells competed in a number of pageants, placing second. She said she decided that she wanted to take a year off because she needed to re-evaluate where her life was taking her.
“It came to a point where I was having fun doing the pageants, but it needed to be about something other than what I was doing,” she explained. “I had a platform but it really wasn’t something that I could relate to. There are things and causes that I would love to be an advocate for, but I wanted to do something that was close to my heart and I felt that bullying was it.”
Last November, Wells was crowned Miss Clinton High School and won every category at Miss North Carolina High School in July.
The platform of bullying is an emotional one for Wells. Although she says she didn’t feel bullied at the time, she has since realized that she was bullied in middle school.
“It happened to me and I really didn’t think it did,” she said. “Because I have the personality to just get up and get away from it, I just considered it as that person was just having a bad day or that person (who was bullying) just wanted to act cool in front of their friends, which is really what it is. I really didn’t know the depth of it and I will admit, I was afraid to talk about it. This has given me a chance to talk with others about it and it has helped.”
A friend recently admitted to her that when she was in middle school, she was picked on so badly that she would try to physically hurt herself. “That was also another reason that I really felt I needed to do bullying as my platform,” Wells said. “Throughout the years there were so many reasons for me to do it, not just for myself, but for other people. It affects everyone at some point and while I have this opportunity, while I have this platform where people can hear me get the message out, I am going to do it because it is going on a lot more than I thought it did. I just thank the schools for allowing me to come in and let my message get out.”
It is a cause that she will continue to fight, she noted, even after high school.
“I am interested in going to college and study marketing right now,” she said with a laugh. “I still have time, but hopefully, I will also be able to compete in Miss North Carolina, which is known for community service. I can tell you that no matter what happens, fighting bullying will always be my platform. For me, I feel like I am just really blessed to be able to do this. This is not for me, this is something that I can do to give back to my community and hopefully help others. I want people to know that I am doing this so people don’t have to go through bullying. I just hope that I can inspire someone … I really do.”
Wells is the daughter of Gary and Beth Wells, and sister to Turner.
“They have always been so supportive of me,” she said of her family. “I just really appreciate everything that they have done. My friends have too. I have the greatest group of friends that have always been there for me.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-837 ext. 123 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.