When Brett Cornelius, a middle school teacher in Arizona's Queen Creek Middle School asked his students to perform a monologue as their end-of-the-year assignment, he didn't expect that one of his students would write and perform a monologue so powerful that it would take his classroom, and eventually the world, by storm. But that is what happened when seventh-grader Olivia Vella performed a slam-poem that delved into the insecurities and frustrations of life as a teenage girl.
"As you gaze into the bathroom mirror, you see a stranger that somehow stole your reflection and replaced it with a completely different girl," says 13-year-old Vella during her monologue. "Every part of your outfit is uncomfortable. But even though you spent hours trying to look pretty, you will never be as good as those other girls at school."
Vella's speech is peppered with nuggets of wisdom like this in which she perfectly sums up what it feels like to walk in the shoes of a young teenager trying to find herself while the world constantly compares her to others. "You take each comment, each judgement, each assumption, each opinion, each strange look, each remark, each criticism, each review, each report, each assessment," says Vella, "And with it your self-esteem plummets. Like a sinking ship."
Throughout the presentation, Vella continues to ask, "Why am I not good enough?" a question that has surely been asked by many young girls — and boys — as they trudged through those turbulent adolescent years. And it's a question many men and women continue to ask themselves as they face the challenges of adult life.
'Digging into the raw depths of teenage hood'
With this kind of far-reaching wisdom, it's no wonder the video of Vella performing her monologue went viral almost immediately after it was posted to Queen Creek Middle School's Facebook page. Vella's teacher, known to students as "Mr. C.," commented: "What's even more incredible is that she worked on this for over a month, truly digging into the raw depths of teenage hood and expressing her feelings of the good, the bad, and the ugly of walking the halls of the school as a young woman."
According to Mr. C, Vella's 6-minute presentation left her class speechless and in tears. And it had pretty much the same effect on the millions of online viewers. Vella told her local CBS affiliate that people in her school and around the world have reached out to her to express their gratitude and say they feel the same way.
"It was really eye-opening because I, for most of the time, thought I was the only one that felt this way and I was crazy for feeling it," Vella said.
Vella is surprised by the attention her presentation has received, but she is hopeful it will help at least one person understand the poem's underlying message:
"Society is wrong. You are loved. You are precious. You are beautiful. You are talented. You are capable. You are deserving of respect. You can eat that meal. You are one in 7 billion. And most of all, you are good enough."