Christina Kelly stood out in just that way that was all but unforgivable in seventh grade, when she entered a junior-senior high school.
She was studious, well-read, and boasted a killer vocabulary.
She was also, at times, shoved, taunted, and carted an imaginary target on her back.
"I had an obnoxious vocabulary," she said, self-deprecatingly. The punishment was swift, harsh and perfectly high school: "I had everything from taunts to candy thrown at me." But one look at the Elmont senior clearly indicates that she isn't one to be browbeaten. When she speaks, the 18-year-old is poised, even elegant. She's wearing scrubs from her part-time job as a medical assistant and, between work, school and the blur of philanthropic work, it's taken her about three days to find a spare moment to talk to a reporter.
Kelly is, in all regards, a success story when it comes to playing a bad hand very well. Others, she said, may not be as a lucky. It's the reason she took over the Kindness Committee - a group intent on spreading good deeds through Elmont Memorial School, and the genesis of the school's Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"With the junior and senior high schools combined, it's a rough transition from elementary school," Kelly said. "For me, I had to take the experience and learn from it. It was tough at that time to translate it to something good and not be bitter. But I wanted to make sure that the experience wasn't a reality for someone else."
Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kelly's pet project, continues now, about a year after the Kindness Committee was dissolved. The effort received full support from the administration from the get-go. The principal, John Capozzi, told her, " 'Anything you need, funding, anything, if we can help, we will.' They were really behind us," she said.
So, too, was the student body. In the first year, more than 80 students volunteered to help mentor "at-risk" seventh- or eighth-graders. Big Siblings either do a locker visit each morning or have lunch with their charges once or twice a week. Kelly usually sets up activities - heading, for instance, to Dollar Tree during her lunch period to buy supplies.
Kelly, who will attend Rutgers University in the fall, is also part of the Model United Nations, Future Business Leaders of America and a volunteer at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream. She hopes to study pharmacology, get her doctorate and work her way up the ranks in corporate pharmacy. And she wants to put that vocabulary to good use and own a publishing company.
Yes, it's a bit off the beaten track. But if Kelly, who has purple scrubs, green polka-dot nails and keen, penetrating eyes, has learned anything, it's that being different is worth it.
She said she gets it from her mom, Karen. "She's this really individual spirit. Even when things were bad, she would always tell me: 'People dislike you because you're different. They don't have the courage to be different.' "