The petite girl sat poised in front of her silver computer. She took a few breaths to prepare herself. She opened her mouth and sang.
Amanda Rivet is an 18 year old at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She is a freshman in the Game Design and Development program and has achieved a level of fame on the Internet for her creations, including her singing. Her confidence in herself took a long time to reach this level. The harsh reality of bullying had damaged her self-esteem for many years.
Rivet participated in beauty pageants in her home town of Silver Creek, New York. “My mom pushed me to do them,” Rivet said. To prepare her for appearances on stage, she went to dance and singing lessons, from first grade until senior year of high school.
Her first pageant was at age 7, where she took third place overall. Her second pageant at age 9 was when she won the best talent prize, and her final pageant at age 12 saw no accolades. As she grew older, Rivet lost interest in putting herself in front of others to be publically judged. “I told mom that I didn’t feel right doing it,” she said. “A lot of the girls were really cliquey. I felt like the odd one out.”
While the other girls happily partook in the competitions, Rivet would rather write, play video games or play around on the family’s computer. The feeling of being the odd one out stretched into her school life as well. In 6th grade Rivet found herself with only one friend, another girl. There were rumors in school that she was a lesbian. “A bunch of the ‘friends’ I had turned around and called me a lesbo or lesbian because the only friend I had held my hand whenever I got bullied,” Rivet wrote on her website.
One day, Rivet realized that she was attracted to girls. She became public about her sexuality in the 8th grade. Rivet had her first girlfriend at this time, but they broke up after an incident at school. “[Other students] reported me for kissing my girlfriend on the cheek when other couples were making out in the hallways. I almost got suspended for PDA (public displays of affection), which was hand-holding and kissing on the cheek.”
After experiencing Silver Creek Central’s hypocrisy, Rivet tried to be straight to quell the physical and verbal harassment she experienced every day. “Being straight was not something I was comfortable with,” said Rivet. Some of the students that harassed her had parents that worked in the school, so the administration did not believe her claims. The National School Climate Survey found that eight in ten LGBT students have been verbally harassed at school, and that four in ten have been physically harassed.
“In 10th grade, I just didn’t give a shit anymore,” Rivet said. She dated other girls and did not care what others thought about her. “Once I hit 12th grade, the bullies were all gone,” she said. Once she came to RIT, she felt much more comfortable than in her conservative hometown.
Rivet, with her new-found self-confidence, used her skills from her pageant days to spread the message of love, tolerance and friendship online. Diana Rodriguez, 22, is a friend of Rivets who was seen the result of her struggles.
“I think that it made her stronger,” Rodriguez said.” Now she cares less about what other people think about most things, but there’s also a shyness and carefulness about her. When people actually make their way into her circle of friends, I think she cares more about what they think.”
As Rivet found herself in the understanding environment of RIT, she blossomed into a confident individual. Rivet said, “The true friends who stood by my side were all that mattered. My academics were gonna get me somewhere in life. And they are. Things are only going to get better from here.”