Fight bullying by ‘showing up’

"You just have to show up."

            That was the message Jonathan Friesen had for an all-school assembly at New Prague High School Friday, Sept. 13. He said at times that is all that is needed to fight bullying. Friesen, a noted young adult author, drove home that statement with stories during the presentation in the high school’s gym.

            Friesen understands the effects of bullying and being ostracized. He has lived with Tourette Syndrome. The disease, which causes uncontrolled twitching, led others to tease and single him out. He explained through his own story and the stories of others, which ranged from funny to serious, how people can help prevent or improve the lives of others who are bullied. In his teens he said a classmate came to visit him at his home. She talked with him for an hour, an hour that he said saved his life.

            Kicking off the assembly was a group of students performing the song "Brave" by Sara Bareilles. The song has come to be known as an anthem to encourage people to stand up for themselves. The students were joined by others from the bleachers dancing along to the song.

            In support of the message being sent to the high school community, teachers throughout the gym were wearing T-shirts with the phrase, "I’ve got your back." It is hoped students will realize the staff is there to help them.

            Following the assembly, Friesen talked with language arts classes about his experience and inspiration as a writer. Students asked him several questions. Among them were how he overcame his Tourette Syndrome and if it makes it hard to write? Friesen said he never overcame his condition, but he came to accept it. If he’s tense he can twitch more and when he’s relaxed it doesn’t happen as much. He noted that he finds speaking to be relaxing. To writing he said with a grin, "I was never going to write. I was never going to speak about it. Now that’s what I do."

            Friesen said Tourette Syndrome is hereditary. His mom, brother,  and two nephews have it, as does Friesen’s own daughter. "The hardest part is seeing your kid get it," said Friesen, realizing that she’ll probably have to go through many of the same things he did.

            Funding for Friesen’s appearance was provided by the New Prague Area Education Foundation.