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This nonbinary student activist has some powerful words as equalpride's 2024 valedictorian

highschool graduation students rainbow cap and gown student author Scar Rulien Equalpride Valedictorian 2024
Getty Creative; Courtesy Scar Rulien

Scar Rulien is equalpride’s inaugural Valedictorian for the Class of 2024 and a Student Advocate for GLSEN, the nation’s leading organization working to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual and gender identities.

I'm sure we're all very nervous going into graduation, so I'd like to start with a fun fact about me.

My mom almost named me Jeff. Not Jeffrey, just Jeff. Sorry to any Jeff's out there, but Jeff is an objectively funny name. Unfortunately for my mom, who put so much thought into picking a good boy name (shout out to Jeff Gordon), I was born a girl. So she did exactly what any good mom would do in this scenario: pick up a baby book, flip to a random page, put her finger down, and give me the fantastic new name it landed on.

I don't go by this name anymore, not because it was somehow an even funnier name, but because it doesn't fit who I am. Unfortunately for my mom, I wasn't actually a girl. I'm non-binary, and by the time I realized this fact about myself, I definitely wasn't giving my mom a third chance to pick my name.

I picked the name Scar. And yes! I know the irony of calling Jeff an objectively funny name when my name makes everyone think of The Lion King. But it takes one to know one! My name could be better, too, but at least I got to choose my bad name! (I'm looking at you, Jeff Gordon.)

Jokes aside, this experience has taught me one thing: there's power in our choices.

Sometimes, our choices can be massive, like choosing what college to attend. But other times, the most significant choice in our lives is choosing to get out of bed in the morning. Still, every choice we make is powerful.

My fellow graduates, I ask you to reflect on your high school experience. How have your choices shaped you? How have others shaped you? Most importantly, how have your actions affected others?

Not so fun fact: According to the Trevor Project's 2024 US National survey on the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people, 49% of LGBT people ages 13-17 reported experiencing bullying in the past year because of their identity. Have you been complicit in this? Have you bullied a peer simply because of how they identify? Have you stood idly by as your other peers did? The same survey found that 1 in 10 LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide in the past year. It's no coincidence that those with some of the highest rates of bullying end up having the highest rates of suicides.

Many of us find school a safe haven, but it's a constant battle for some. It involves begging to be called the right name, keeping your head down when you walk in the halls, and lying to your friends about your identity.

I want those people to know that I see them. I see your struggle. I see how you find hope through social media posts. I see how you cling to characters in books about queer joy you can only dream about, like they are your only lifeline.

Know that you are loved.

Even though it's cheesy, it does get better. It may feel hopeless today, but with time, you'll look back and see how far you've come. You'll be able to embrace your identity and find incomparable freedom in doing so.

One day, your daydreams of feeling accepted won't be daydreams anymore. One day, you will be able to live without fear. One day that stupid, funny name you gave yourself in your head will be the name others will call you, and you'll love every minute of it.

So please, choose to keep living your beautiful, messy, queer life.

Scar Rulien is equalpride’s inaugural Valedictorian for the Class of 2024 and a Student Advocate for GLSEN, the nation’s leading organization working to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual and gender identities. Learn more about GLSEN at glsen.org

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit pride.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at [email protected]. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of PRIDE.com or our parent company, equalpride.

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