FAIR LAWN, NJ – Dancing in their seats and waving hand-crafted butterflies emblazoned with various messages including “Believe in Yourself” and “Stay Strong,” fifth-grade students from three area school districts filled Fair Lawn High School auditorium to hear the voice of wisdom from, yes, a 20-year-old.

Approximately 200 students from Fair Lawn, Glen Rock and Paramus packed the high school auditorium on Oct. 29 for #MotivationMonday featuring the wisdom shared by singer/songwriter Lizzie Sider, who returned to the district for a second year to instill pieces of advice about being a model student and combating bullying in between belting out a plethora of optimistic pop songs from Katy Perry’s “Roar” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” 

The assembly, called “Nobody Has the Power to Ruin Your Day,” was a powerful culmination of National Bullying Prevention Month, something Sider said she was "no stranger to." In fact, she attested to using her trials of being a victim of bullying in grade school as fuel to become who she is today and to find her life’s purpose.

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At just 20 years old, Sider is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit with the assembly’s same name, and has made appearances on Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and the Queen Latifah Show. She has toured hundreds of schools around the country to tell her story and encourage a culture of humility and kindness.     

“When I was your age, I was bullied by the same group of girls over and over again, and I would come home crying almost every single day feeling defeated and feeling like I was nothing,” she said into the microphone onstage. “Feeling like any confidence I had was just stripped from me. And one day… my dad told me to remember: nobody has the power to ruin your day. I didn’t really understand what he meant by that, but after talking about it with both my parents and really thinking about it, it clicked.” 

The revelation, she explained, began to impact her life in forceful ways. 

“I started to be almost like a brick wall," she explained to the students. "Any time those girls tried to say something to me or bring me down to the ground, I would rise up. Right passed them."

Sider explained to the students that bullying is not a reflection of the victim but of the offender, and to recognize that bullying stems from voids and insecurities inside the offender and that they use the cruel act to give them power over their target.  

“Hurting people isn’t cool,” she mused. “Putting others down is never going to fill us with the kind of joy we’re looking for. That’s going to come through love.”

So instead of allowing the bullying to get to her, she made the bold decision of taking the power back. How? Choosing not to react. 

“The bullying began to stop because it wasn’t worth their time anymore,” Sider recalled. “To not get a reaction out of me. In that moment, I realize, I now have the power instead of them. And there was no way that anybody was going to put me down without my permission ever again."

"You have the power to decide what kind of a person you’re going to be and how beautiful you feel about yourself," she continued. "Who you are.” 

Becoming a good person, she explained, takes initiative like anything else in life. Sider compared the experience to having once trekked up a mountain. While it took lots of hard work, after trusting in her inner voice that said, “you can do it” coupled with putting in the legwork, she said she reaped a stunning reward and reached a beautiful destination – an experience that left her breathless in more than one way. 

“Little by little, breath by breath, step by step, I found myself at the top,” she said as she walked from the auditorium aisles up the stage steps. “It was so beautiful and the sun came out. It was as if life said to me, 'See what happens when you push through?' You see the light. And I want you guys to know and to remember that.”

If only all students had seen the light that morning. While fifth-graders were getting inspired in North Jersey and spreading the word about kindness, unfortunately and coincidentally, Monday’s assembly took place around the time a deadly bullying incident occurred three states away. That morning at Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina, national media reported that a ninth-grade boy had shot and killed a tenth-grade boy after a fight had escalated to violence in the hallway. The ninth-grade boy was charged with first-degree murder. 

“Bullying is not only something that happens in Fair Lawn, but everywhere in the world,” said Superintendent of Schools Nick Norcia after the assembly. “The world needs more positive role models, such as Lizzie Sider, for students to look up to and hear that they have a voice, and bullying has no home here in Fair Lawn or anywhere.”

Just recently, as part of a $320,400 district-wide safety initiative, armed retired police officers were placed in all of Fair Lawn’s elementary and middle schools for added security measures following the horrific Parkland shooting back in February. Currently, one school resource officer, who is a regular member of the borough police department, is stationed at Fair Lawn High School.

District officials also budgeted over $650,000 to expand their mental health initiative to all 10 schools following a successful partnership with CarePlus NJ and Effective School Solutions who provided behavioral health care and support services to over 100 students in need.

To round off Monday’s assembly, Sider left the students with hope and a lesson in being yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and the transformative effect of lifting people up to create a kinder culture.

“We are all beautiful. We are all butterflies,” she said before the students joined her in her song with the same name:

“I used to hide and keep inside/Afraid to show the world who I was/But look at me now/Gonna spread my wings, bright and colorful things/They thought they knew me plain and shy/But all along I was a butterfly…”

For more on the nonprofit, visit NobodyHasthePowertoRuinYourDay.org.