The following is an essay written by Stelmo Stepp, 16-year-old sophomore at Upperman High School, Baxter, Tennessee. She won a county-wide high school contest with her thoughts. IMG_9020

Her mom’s note: This is Stelmo’s essay on diversity. They were told not to write about race or disability, rather another form of diversity they see in their school. Also, that it didn’t need to be a true story, so I don’t know how much of this rings true for herself…


I walk into the cafeteria on the very first day of school and look around. Where am I going to sit? I glance around frantically looking for a familiar face. I see a bunch of jerseys, some cheer bows, some with purple hair, the nerds, the troublemakers, and then some band lettermen. Who do you choose to walk towards?

In my school, not many of these people mix with each other. We, for the most part, stay separated from one another. It’s like when people are afraid to mix their foods together or for their foods to touch each other because it could make some disgusting concoction. Have you ever had cake and ice cream together, or peas and mashed potatoes? Together these foods make amazing mixtures that are even better than the foods by themselves.

It’s time to make my decision. Who am I going to sit with? Being a cheerleader I would gravitate towards the bows, but it’s time to mix it up so let’s go towards the nerds. I sit down and interrupt their conversation about chemistry and calculus. For a second they glance up at me then turn back to each other and continue their conversation. I listen intently trying to figure out what they’re talking about. When someone finally says something that I understand, I join in on the conversation. In return, I get a bunch of confused looks from the people sitting at the table. They have a “how can a cheerleader know this?” look on their faces. We continue our conversation until lunch is over and now I have friends that just 35 minutes ago were strangers.

In middle and elementary school, they used to give us the “don’t leave anyone out” talk. I used to never understand this speech because growing up in my household everyone was completely different, but in some ways, we were all alike. For the most part, we’d all hang out together and never leave anyone out. I didn’t get why they gave us this speech till I got to my 8th-grade year and starting high school. I started looking around realizing that we were slowly separating into groups or “cliques.”

For a long time this didn’t make any sense to me. As I get older the cliques somewhat fade, but they are definitely still there. There are still groups of people who refuse to sit with each other or even associate with each other. My 8th grade and freshman year the football and soccer players were never really friends until one of the football players joined the soccer team. From this the two realized the others weren’t that bad.

Two weeks ago, I got my letterman for cheer. I got in the car and my mom was in the passenger seat and I handed her the jacket. Now before I finish this story I’m going to give you some background information on my mom. My mom grew up as a clogger with her friends, her mom, and her mom’s friends. She was also a Girl Scout and has always been the smart weird kid (weird in a good way of course). My mom has had purple, pink, or/and blue hair for as long as I can remember and the majority of my friends tell me she is the “cool mom.”

Anyways, back to my story. I get into the car and she takes the jacket and starts laughing to herself. She is beyond stunned by what I have just given her. I ask her what she was laughing at and she goes, “Never would I think I would have a daughter who has a letterman.” I asked her what she meant and she concluded with telling me she was the furthest thing from a letterman jacket when she was in high school. That was her. Then my dad was in the band.

If my parents were in high school with me right now, no lie, I would probably not be friends with them or have very many conversations with them. Which is very strange because my mom is my best friend. In the society we are in we are taught that these people hang out with these people and only them. There is an invisible barrier that divides our student population into multiple cliques. Our teachers, administrators, and some parents try to break up these groups. Give students a chance to get to know one another, but a majority of the time it fails.

Not many people like change and don’t want things to change, including myself. Until the past month I stayed with my group and didn’t really venture out very often, but the second I did I was making many friends. I met some amazing people who I’m slowly growing closer to. I’m finding that mixing my cake with ice cream is turning into an amazing blend of flavors and friends.





Published by Judytwiga

I am a freelance writer and photographer who enjoys living close to the action in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the 1980s I created and published Zoo Connections, an international networking publication for non-animal zoo departments. Jobs over the years include working with the developmentally disabled, night front desk at a motel, assistant in development and membership at the NC Zoological Society, Customer Relations manager at Regal Entertainment Group, census enumerator, concessions at University of Tennessee, house cleaner, substitute teacher, sitter for children, houses, and pets. Freelance work at Knoxville News Sentinel and KnoxZine. Contributor to A Knoxville Christmas (2008,2007), and articles for the North Carolina Zoo website. Interested in anything except humorless people and politics. Enjoy reading, Scrabble, Catan, camping. I hold dear family (human and animal), friends, Kenya, Sunset Beach, NC and the Keys.

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