PORTLAND, Maine — When Shannon Selig was in high school, she wasn’t an athlete like most of the popular students, and she said her passion for music and theater provided classmates with fodder to launch rumors that she was full of herself.
But contrary to those rumors, Selig — then a North Yarmouth teenager attending Greely High School and now an up-and-coming country music singer — was awash with self-doubt and insecurity.
“There were lots of rumors being circulated to knock me down,” she recalled. “I was bullied in high school, and now I’m an example. I’ve been there and I’m OK.”
Selig is indeed OK. In addition to a slew of Maine and regional awards — including New England Country Music Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Female Entertainer of the Year in 2011 — she earned North American Country Music Awards Horizon honors as one of the continent’s top up-and-coming female vocalists and songwriters this year.
But as perhaps her most popular song indicates, not every young person who experiences bullying gets that opportunity for redemption. “Show Me The Light,” which Selig co-wrote with Jimmy Buffett bassist Jim Mayer, was written in the memory of Ashlynn Connor and Jasmine McClain, 10-year-old girls in Illinois and North Carolina, respectively, who committed suicide last year after reportedly being bullied in school.
“[Bullying] is so much worse now,” said Christopher Tyll, owner of Pat’s Pizza in Portland, where Selig headlined a Friday event to raise awareness of bullying. “The ‘cyberworld’ makes it quicker and easier to bully and to bully anonymously.”
Bringing the problem close to home, a former Orono High School student, a 16-year-old female, was charged with felony terrorizing and harassment earlier this month after allegedly posting what police called “violent, disgusting and vulgar” messages for a classmate online.
Now, Selig is using the Internet, the same technology that often exacerbates bullying in schools, to push her message of self-value.
“The song has gone viral,” Tyll, who lives near Selig’s mother in North Yarmouth, said. “Shannon gets a lot of messages on the Internet saying, ‘Your song is really helping.’”
Tyll said one out of every four middle and high school students is bullied, and 160,000 school days nationwide are missed each year because of children staying home to avoid bullies.
Jimmy Peabody-Harrington, a senior captain of the Cheverus High School football team, said oftentimes bullying is the result of a student “trying to be cool or funny” and taking their jokes — made at a classmate’s expense — too far.
“You have to realize when you’re hurting their feelings or crossing that line — when you may say you’re just having fun, but people really aren’t appreciating it,” he said.
Peabody-Harrington joined fellow football players and Mike O’Neal, founder of the Maine-based nonprofit Keeping Kids Safe, at the Friday event at Pat’s Pizza.
O’Neal said bullying can start as early as preschool, and put-downs can have lasting effects on children as they grow up.
“They’re always going to remember it,” he said. “It destroys their self-esteem, their goals and their dreams. What we want to do is reach out to bystanders — to let them know it’s OK to stand up and say it isn’t right [to bully others].”
For her part, Selig hopes to connect with victims, and let them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s hard being in high school and being constantly judged,” she said. “I think it’s good for girls to see me up here singing. I’m not a size 0. I’m so imperfect, but I still like myself.”
Tyll said he hopes Portland shoppers on Black Friday heard that message loud and clear.
“There are a lot of people coming in and out of the restaurant, from the downtown [where they’ve been] shopping,” he said. “Even if they didn’t know this event was going on, our waitresses will be able to tell them about the music and the cause. And maybe they’ll go back and have a conversation with their family about bullying this weekend.”