“Be who you are”
By Joel Ceausu
How’d you like to hear that every day? How about when you were a kid?
Now imagine it on a daily basis. It’s a lot for sure, but for Petro Chionis it was as much a part of his daily school routine as recess.
Chionis spoke about his experiences at an event organized by Students First, a group of candidates in the upcoming school board elections in Laval.
“It’s horrible to be hated for being who you are” the 18-year-old told more than 130 people at Château Royal earlier this month, at an event to support the team led by commissioner and candidate for chair Steve Bletas.
“As long as I can remember I loved to sing and dance,” said the student at Dawson College’s professional theatre program. “Since I was two years old I wanted to be on stage and make people happy and smile.”
As a young boy, he created his own routines and dreamt of becoming a world-class pop star like Michael Jackson. But the taunting and cruelty put an end to it. “When you are seven years old, just the word ‘stupid’ is bad enough, so you hear that and you don’t know what to think.”
“I stopped doing what I loved, thinking it would stop,” he said, “but it never stopped. I was called out in class, on the bus, outside, was pushed on the ground and hit and kicked. I left elementary school scared of the world…”
Hoping that high school to afford him a new lease on life, Chionis was mistaken as taunts and slurs continued. “I was excited to start a new beginning, but the bullying and bullies followed me like a shadow, I couldn’t make friends the regular way, by just saying ‘Hi I’m Petro’.”
He recalled that when he finally did seek assistance from school staff the reaction and intervention was swift and effective. “There’s a misconception that we can just pass a law and everything will be fine, but that’s not the way to do it; we have to go straight to the target, and that’s what I loved about my high school, the staff stepped in and would take care of it as fast as possible.”
“That’s precisely the point,” said Bletas, who promised if elected to institute strong and effective anti-bullying measures from prevention and swift intervention programs to increased collaboration with community partners like Télé-Jeunes.
Chionis’ big turnaround came at a Lady Gaga concert, where he felt empowered by the artist’s words about equality, confidence and pride. “I started to really believe in myself, smile, and appreciate my time here on earth.” Feeling inspired, he took a chance and entered—and won—a radio contest, which had him dancing on stage with Britney Spears.
“We all have the right to be happy and be who we really are,” said Chionis. “This is who I am. If anyone stands in your spotlight,” he told the rapt adult audience, “tell them to step aside.”