February 6, 2013
LIMA—Today she wears a crown and has represented Ohio in the Miss America competition. But not all that long ago, Elissa McCracken was bullied so badly she would cry alone in her room at night.
“If I can beat the bullies, you can too,” McCracken told St. Charles Catholic School pupils Wednesday before helping them paint their pinky fingernails blue and “blue pinky swear” with her they would “not bully and be nice.”
McCracken, a 21-year-old pharmacy student at Ohio Northern University, is starting to bring her stop cyberbullying message to area schools. The issue was her platform when competing in the Miss America contest last month. She didn’t make it into the top 15 contestants but said she had the time of her life.
“Miss America itself was just fun, crazy, exciting, exhausting. So many different words to describe it,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was so happy I had it.”
Winning would have sent McCracken around the country. Instead, she now can travel the state with her stop cyberbulling message.
“I have a little bit more freedom to do what I want, and this is my favorite part: speaking to kids and being around the kids,” she said.
The St. Charles pupils had all kinds of questions for McCracken: How do you keep the crown on your head? Do you always wear makeup? What did you win in the Miss Ohio contest? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you like Honey Boo Boo? McCracken quickly said she’s never watched the reality TV show.
While she answered all the pupils' questions, McCracken made sure to get her story out, too. She spent two years being cyberbullied in middle school. Classmates would instant message that she was ugly and would never get a boyfriend. They made fun of her glasses, hair and clothes.
“It did not matter what I did, nothing was right,” she said. “I cried a lot. I locked myself in my room and just cried. I felt ugly, depressed and alone.”
McCracken finally told her mother and began talking with a school counselor. She told pupils Wednesday the recovery took time. She began doing pageants, which did much for her confidence. After three tries, she was crowned Miss Rain Day in her hometown in Pennsylvania.
“If you have a dream, never give up on it,” McCracken said. “If you work hard, it probably will happen.”
Over 70 percent of teenagers experience cyberbullying at some point, McCracken said. She urged pupils to follow three rules when they are cyberbullied: Stop, block and tell. She told pupils to stop communicating with the bully and to block his or her messages. An adult, she said, will know what to do next.
“If they get in trouble, they deserve every bit of it, so don’t feel bad,” she said.
McCracken has taken the year off from school but said she'll return to Ohio Northern in the fall. She plans to graduate with a pharmacy degree in three years. McCracken is vice president of the school’s Delta Zeta Sorority. About 100 sorority sisters and others traveled to Las Vegas to watch her in the Miss America contest.
“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I have been pleasantly surprised at how much support I have received,and I am very thankful."