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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 17 2013

'I feel worthless': In anti-bullying play, Moorhead 8th-graders share pain, secrets

MOORHEAD - For a glimpse into life as an eighth-grader, listen to members of the Horizon Middle School cast of “Letters to Daddy” as they share their heartaches and anxieties.

“I feel sad when people look at me like I am a freak. I hate when people stare at me,” says Garrett Grommesh, who uses a wheelchair to get around.

“I had one girl tell me I was half human because my legs don’t work. It bugs me when people tell me I am lucky because I don’t have to run in gym class. I wish so badly that I could walk and run or even stand,” Grommesh said, reading the letter during a rehearsal on Friday.

“Letters to Daddy” is a one-act musical about bullying and the pain, consequences and even the secrets that can lie at the heart of the problem.

“It’s everywhere. Probably more than we’d like to admit,” theater arts teacher and play director Kelly Dubois-Gerchak said Friday.

Letters from Grommesh, Amanda Herzog and Aubree Buysse are among those written by cast members that will be included in the musical.

“Currently, the thing in my life causing me anxiety is my mom’s recent announcement that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She just found out on Friday,” Herzog said as she rehearsed the production. “She doesn’t know what stage she has yet; she has another appointment on Thursday. The doctors say the lump is small, which is good. I just hope nothing bad happens.”

In her letter, Buysse talks about feeling like being one of the tops on the Island of Misfit Toys in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“I know at the end of the movie all the misfit toys get homes, but I feel like the toy that would be hated and never played with,” she said. “I feel like the kid would just toss me away at one glance. I feel like whenever I go hang out with my ‘friends,’ I’m never included. I feel worthless and like no one cares about me. I guess one reason I am kinda quiet is because I’m in pain.”

The final three shows of the musical are Tuesday at Moorhead High School, with two shows for students during the day, and a public showing at 7 that night.

“Quite frankly, I was shocked at some of the things that came up,” Dubois-Gerchak said. “Sometimes we don’t realize what these kids go through in their lives.”

The musical follows a 14-year-old girl facing an extraordinary day of challenges. She worries her parents may get divorced, and she gets detention for fighting with a bully during recess.

At home, she’s sent to her father’s den to contemplate her actions. There, she and her friends find a set of essays, written by her father’s students, that detail the painful issues in those students’ lives.

The 16-member cast and four technical crew members took the musical on the road with three performances Nov. 5 on the campus of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

There, they performed for more than 1,200 students and adults from North Dakota and Minnesota schools.

The musical has become a bonding experience for the cast, Grommesh said.

“We’ve become a second family,” he said.

Herzog and Buysse said they hope the message offered in song and dance sticks with their peers.

“I hope it really gets to kids,” Herzog said.

“I hope it kind of makes them realize how mean they are being” to others, Buysse added.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583