Four decades after being bullied out of school a 56-year-old man proudly walked across the stage in a cap and gown to receive his high school diploma.
Brian Petersen originally attended high school alongside his fellow teenage classmates but in 1979, at the age of 16, he decided to leave as he couldn’t bear the thought of spending another day being the target of hurtful bullies.
For four years, cruel teens picked on the student; ripping up his homework, pushing him in the halls and shoving him into lockers.
This year, however, Brian graduated with his high school diploma:
The father-of-one recalled how he used to get picked on for a number of things, saying:
I was always a small kid and I was an easy target I guess. I like to raise my hand in class, which the other kids didn’t like. That got me the nickname ‘brainiac’.
The bullying developed into kids pushing me into the hallways and throwing my books on the floor.
One day in gym class we were playing basketball and someone had poured water on the floor so that I would slip doing a layup.
Brian went on to explain how his classmates wouldn’t even call him by his real name:
I was never called Brian. They would call me ‘shrimp’ and ‘runt’. I couldn’t even walk home without hassle.
I studied home economics and this gave the bullies even more fuel. They would call me ‘sissy’ and rip up my homework.
The 56-year-old said the final straw was when bullies shoved him into one of the school lockers, where he was stuck for an hour and a half before a janitor heard him screaming and kicking at the door.
Brian never returned to school after that incident. Instead, he went on to train as a dance teacher and balanced his career with his position as a courier for 21 years.
In 2015, the Canadian’s marriage broke down, he lost his courier job and he became homeless. Brian’s mental health declined and he ended up in hospital after experiencing a nervous breakdown.
Speaking about the experience, he said:
I was admitted to a psychiatric facility for four months in 2015. I had literally given up. I was forced to really look at myself in the mirror for the first time.
During recovery, the dad was encouraged by his mental health support worker to register to Winnipeg Adult Education Center and work towards finally earning his high school diploma, years after initially leaving high school.
I never considered going back to school. I couldn’t apply for other jobs because I didn’t have a high school diploma, but I was happy enough with my jobs.
After the hospital I stayed with the Salvation Army and then a in a rooming house. My mental health worker told me I should consider going back to school.
I was opposed, but she said ‘Just humor me’. So I ended up registering at the Winnipeg Adult Education Center.
The Canadian started school in September 2016 and started attending five days a week, four hours a day. In his first semester he took science, maths and English classes.
The 56-year-old added:
Believing in myself was the biggest challenge of it all.
Three years later, on June 28, Brian celebrated his graduation, with his son Ricky watching proudly in the audience as he accepted his diploma.
Speaking of his special day, Brian said:
When I think about my graduation, I get so emotional because it’s been a long journey. I wish my mom and dad were alive to see it. But luckily my kid Ricky is here to see me get my diploma.
I hope to go on to university. I was thinking about studying drama and theater at the University of Winnipeg, but I’ve been thinking also about becoming a teacher.
Getting my diploma has changed my life completely. I have learned so much, and not just academically. When they gave me my diploma, I completely lost it.
It was a really special day.
The 56-year-old hopes to continue his studies at the University of Winnipeg next year and is exploring his options for future careers.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.