- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - For Delanie Wiedrich, the best part about her year of being Miss North Dakota hasn’t been the glamour, the fashion, the scholarships, the attention, the global stage of the Miss America Pageant or the crown itself.

None of that can hold a candle to the day-to-day opportunity her post has given her to speak about her platform to kids and adults across the state. Bullying might seem like a noble and trendy, very “in the news” platform for any Miss America candidate to adopt, and it’s that assumption Wiedrich plays into each time she’s addressing a roomful of kids as she tells the story of a girl she knew when she was in school, who was bullied horribly, driven to despair, depression and self-loathing.

They never see the plot twist coming.

“I tell them how I watched that girl start to fade and decided until I decided one day I would give her a call and found that she’s happy and healthy and in college. But my favorite part of the story is when I point to the crown and tell them about how she became Miss North Dakota,” Wiedrich told the Williston Herald (http://bit.ly/22VqIJn ) recently as she winds down her reign and prepares to hand off the crown at Williston High School on Saturday.

“I’m a drama person - I love the dramatic effect,” she said. “But I tell them, I’m not here to tell my story; I’m here because my story isn’t the worst. North Dakota, for 14 to 18 year olds, has suicide levels that’s twice the national rate. It’s because of bullying.”

It’s hard to imagine Wiedrich, now a sharp, confident, stunning 20-year-old sophomore-to-be at Minnesota State University-Mankato, the target of severe bullying precisely because of her looks and lack of confidence growing up in the small North Dakota town of Hazen.

“I was just a very easy target, physically,” Wiedrich said. “People liked to make me the butt of jokes. I was small, soft-spoken, wasn’t into sports, wasn’t cool and I was friends with outsiders. One time I got a black eye when a girl threw a shoe at my face, and whenever the teacher would leave the classroom, they would make comments about my face, my hair my breast size - everything about me - that I was in speech and choir and I was pathetic.”

And that was just in junior high. It was about to get a whole lot worse.

“People started a rumor that I was bulimic and would make vomiting noises when they’d walk by in the hallway,” she said. “There was a girl who said she was daydreaming about how she could break by neck by shoving it against the side of a blackboard because I was so skinny.”

The bullying in the hallways of Hazen High got even worse as it spread to the classroom of the world wide web and the smartphone - the device, Wiedrich points out, that’s probably most responsible for making bullying such an epidemic.

“It’s so difficult now because we carry our bullies around with us - there’s no getting away from it,” she said, picking up and putting down her phone. “High school was much more malicious and that’s when the cyber bullying set in. There were parents, mothers of students, sending me (hateful) messages on Facebook. It’s just the mob mentality. Social media makes it very easy to say things you never would. like it’s ‘not real.’”

Wiedrich said that in her sophomore year, she finally fought back against the tide by talking to a school counselor.

“One day I decided I would no longer be a victim. I walked into the counselor’s office and the first day I didn’t say anything - I just cried, and for the first time I cried with someone sitting there by me saying, ‘it’s going to be OK,’” Wiedrich said. “She told me a quote from Dr. Seuss that really resonated with me - ‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.’”

That counselor recommended Delanie take part in a statewide government school program in Fargo, and by her junior year, the experiences of being bullied were in the rear-view, but still very present in her psyche.

“That kind of really got my wheels turning. I started engaging in things and started to find more confidence, but it’s not bullying that gave me thicker skin,” she said. “People say that a lot, ‘bullying makes people stronger’ - wrong! Bullying made me powerless, weak, hopeless. I am who I am today because of the kindness other people have shown me.”

Through it all, Wiedrich said, she bears no hostility toward her school, nor her hometown, for the suffering she endured. After she was crowned Miss North Dakota last June in Williston, her hometown threw her a parade. No doubt many of her former tormentors were in the crowd.

“My community has been extremely supportive,” she said. “After becoming Miss North Dakota, at the crossroads into town, they had fire trucks, police trucks and local vehicles put on a parade, assembled and they drove me through town. There was singing and cheering - the town has been incredibly supportive.”

The bulk of Wiedrich’s typically unpredictable weeks as Miss North Dakota tend to involve sharing her message with kids across the state. And after delivering it for the very first time, she knew she was on to something special.

“I never realized how impactful it could be until after that first presentation, a girl came up to me and said, ‘you made me feel like I matter and I haven’t felt like I mattered in a long time,” Wiedrich said.

___

Information from: Williston Herald, http://www.willistonherald.com

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