*Nerdtastic!  By Julia Applebaum, Age 12

Four years ago, a girl in third grade was sitting on a bench during recess reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Another girl approached her with a smirk on her face.  “You’re reading Harry Potter?” She asked with mocking disbelief.  Her eyes not leaving the page, the girl on the bench responded, “Yep.” “I hated those books.” “Okay.”

Frustrated at not being able to get a tiniest hint of anger out of the deeply involved reader, she narrowed her eyes.  “Nerd.”  She mutters before strutting of to join her pack of friends. The girl reading on the bench lifts her eyes for a second, and then turns the page.

About a year later, the same girl was reading during snack time. One of her classmates walked over to her and snatched the book out of her hands. “Hey!” She says confused. “Guardians of Ga’hoole,” he says with a scoff, “isn’t this the book about the owls that fight each other?”  “Yes. Now give it back.” She says sternly. “Whoa! CCalm down. It’s just a book.” He replies smirking. The boys on either side of him snicker. “It’s my book.”  “Fine. Here’s your dumb book back.” He drops the book on the classroom floor and walks away. The rest of the boys follow him spitting “Nerd” at the girl bending down to pick up her fallen novel.

A year later, the girl unpacks her X-Men comic book after finishing her assignment. “What’s that?” A kid asks from across the room, “Is that a magazine?” “It’s a comic book,” she tells him.   “You’re reading a comic book?” another kid asks. At this school, comic books were a rarity.  The girl purses her lips at the oncoming wave of comments.  “Comic books are stupid.”  “I’d never read a comic book. The movies were horrible.”

“You’re such a nerd.”

For years, I’ve received all sorts of bad treatment about what I choose to read, watch or do. There’s been weird looks, whispers, mean comments, the whole package. But I’ve chosen to never let it bother me and to never hide what I enjoyed because others decided it was “nerdy” or “not cool.”  For them, being a nerd was an insult. Here’s what being a nerd means to me:

It means not being afraid of loving what you enjoy.

For everyone, there’s a thing in there life that they love. It might be sports, it might be reading, it might be fashion design, it might be science.  It doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that, and the way you find other people who love it, is what makes being a nerd awesome. At my school, I’ve managed to find friends that enjoy being a nerd too. We call ourselves the “Nerd Herd.”

I recently went to Boston comic con. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a huge nerd gathering. I can’t put it into words how amazing it was to be surrounded by hundreds of people who are just as enthusiastic about the same things as you. But you don’t have to love reading and sci-fi to be a nerd, as that would defeat the whole purpose. Just surround yourself with people who love that thing as much as you, and never limit your interests to what others think.

But even though I consider myself a nerd, I don’t limit myself to “nerdy interests.” Aside from watching/reading sci-fi and fantasy and going to conventions, I also enjoy theater, rock climbing, Girl Scouts, and baking.

Don’t follow the crowd. If you do, you’ll find that their destination isn’t the same as yours.  And never let anyone tell you what you can’t or should enjoy.

Flaunt what you love, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

*Julia is the 2013 winner of the DHIFI Kids Peacock Art Contest.  FLAUNT YOUR DIFFERENCE WITH PRIDE!

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