Two years ago, Scott Callahan woke up one night at 3 a.m., grabbed the yellow legal pad he kept on his bedside table, and started writing.
He had been brooding about a chapter in his life he thought was closed, a time stretching from his elementary through middle-school years during which he treated his schoolmates badly.
In short, the Boyd County High School sophomore was a recovered bully, and having conquered his own demons was searching for a way to save the next generation of children the misery that comes from bullying.
Two years later, now a senior, Callahan has parlayed his pad of scribbled notes into a seminar he hopes will transform the culture in Boyd County schools — and one day schools across the state — into a bully-free one where students stand up for one another.
Callahan, 17, presented his seminar Friday to Boyd County eighth-graders, who listened raptly to his account of mistreating others and later rushed to sign a pledge promising they’d abide by his anti-bullying suggestions.
“I was a bully from the third to the ninth grades. All forms — physical, mental, emotional. I made other kids fear school. I made them hate it,” he said.
Paradoxically, he did it hoping other students would like him. “I thought I’d be top dog.”
It may have worked in a narrow sort of way, but as Callahan matured and became an upperclassman in high school, he came to realize how precious his school years were and how he’d been cheating others out of that.
“I love high school. I love the education and the social life and the chance to develop my abilities,” he said. “But some kids fear school — because of bullies.”
Speaking to the eighth-graders in the new high school theater, Callahan offered them what he believes is a sure-fire way to snuff out bullying. His approach amounts to a school-wide commitment to solidarity. “You don’t have to love someone. You don’t even have to like them. You just have to stand behind them,” he said.
The show of unity will face down bullies every time, he said.
Callahan is ambitious. He envisions his seminar being used in schools across the state.
If that happens, he may have to recruit others to present it because he will be busy. He is bound for Morehead State University and later plans to attend law school and has his eye on a Harvard law degree, the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort and possibly the White House.
His call to eighth-graders to promise their support for one another resonated with Danielle Morris and Cassie Bailey, who were the first and second in a crowd of students signing their names to the pledge.
“Everyone can make a difference and I think I can be one of them,” Danielle said.
Callahan’s delivery was so powerful his prescription should be equally effective, Cassie believes. “I’ve seen people fall asleep at these things. To see people so alert and focused shows they get it this time,” she said.
“He captivated the kids,” said Boyd County Middle School principal Bill Boblett. “He got and kept their attention, which is not easy for eighth-graders.”
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.