Photo: Courtesy of Mother McCauley High School

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The Girl Who Stood Up to the Bullies (All of Them!)
It's hard to imagine a middle-school experience more hellish than the one Jodee Blanco endured. The target of numerous bullies in her class, Blanco scarfed down protein bars in the bathroom at lunchtime because other students wouldn't let her sit with them in the cafeteria. School athletes stuffed her mouth with snow, a teacher berated her for standing up for disabled kids and a popular guy offered to sign her yearbook and then scrawled obscenities across the page.

Years later, as an adult, she found the courage to write a book about her teenage experiences called, Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman's Inspirational True Story, which made The New York Times' best-seller list and generated a groundswell response. Bullied students who'd read the book reached out to her through letters and e-mails. Some even confided they were thinking about suicide.

School after school invited Blanco to share her story. After hearing firsthand about the devastating toll bullying was taking all over the U.S., she resolved to draw on her own pain to help kids by creating an anti-bullying program called "It's NOT Just Joking Around!" In presentations, Blanco acts out belittling scenes from her own life to drive home the very real consequences of bullying. She also performs one-on-one interventions to help resolve specific conflicts between students. But in her most courageous—and uplifting—move yet, she's made peace with many of her past tormentors. "If you're going to help others survive that which you endured," she says, "you have to be able to forgive."