“It gives me great pleasure to present this honorary doctorate to Samantha Ripley for her work with homeless youth.” Chancellor Montague steps back from the lectern and smooths the yellow flashes on her gown.
Samantha takes a deep breath, willing herself to rise from her seat and move forward. She didn’t want this honour but others had worked hard behind her back. The moment the letter arrived from the university, she was unable to untangle the process.
As she walks between the rows of freshly-hatched graduates, she hears the whispers.
Ugly as sin.
Sammy, fatty, two-by-four.
I’d gnaw my own arm off.
What a porker.
Shame burns up her cheeks and tears prick her eyes. She steals a glance at the students looking at her. They are smiling. Clapping. Someone says, “Way to go, girl.”
Why are the barbs of her childhood so much stronger than today’s accolades? Will old wounds never heal?
As she reaches the podium, the audience is on its feet, cheering. People are saluting her. They don’t see the girl who hid in the corner of the school ground. They don’t see an ungainly, chubby child whose tongue tripped over words, splicing them into staccato stutters.
They see Samantha Ripley, an almost anorexic, tireless fighter for the underdog. If they knew who she really was, their cheers would turn to taunts. They’d tear up that doctorate and send her back to where she belongs, to the slums with the rest of society’s cast offs.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Bookszlater