Queen Creek Middle School student Olivia Vella, 13, wrote a special poem about self-doubt. Video of her performing the poem in class has gone viral. Her mom and teacher are both proud, but also sad that Olivia feels sad. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
Olivia Vella, who just completed seventh grade at Queen Creek Middle School, is by her English teacher’s estimation “the greatest student I’ve ever come into contact with.”
The 13-year-old’s talent for oratory is by now well-known across the country. In the past week, a video of Olivia delivering an original poem in class has received more than 27 million views — and counting.
But seventh-grade English teacher Brett Cornelius was stunned when he first read a draft. Not by the student’s skill, but by the message.
“Here I was looking at the greatest student I’ve ever come into contact with,” Cornelius said, teary-eyed. “And I’m reading about her being so insecure and so unhappy with who she is, and sadness is the first word I could feel.”
Olivia’s poem is “slam poetry,” a form that includes a demonstrative in-person performance. Hers detailed her personal struggles with society’s perception of beauty and popularity, its central theme being, “Why am I not good enough?”
WATCH OLIVIA VELLA PERFORM HER POEM
Olivia Vella presented the poem to her class as her final assignment in her writing class at Queen Creek Middle School.
Though she wrote the poem based on her experiences, she knew she was not the only one feeling pressure.
“It was solely based on how I felt,” Olivia said. “But I knew that my friends felt the same way.”
The rough draft took only one night to write, but an entire month went into editing and revising. She memorized the entire 6-minute poem, most of it in a single Saturday afternoon.
Olivia said that memorizing tended to come naturally.
“I’ve learned in acting that if you kind of associate it with emotions, you’ll remember it better,” she explained, and that was no challenge with a topic like this.
Cornelius said he knows how thoughtless or cruel students can be with one another.
“I see it every day and, frankly, they’re brutal to one another sometimes,” he said. “Words do hurt.”
Her mother, Molly Vella, said Olivia has always been an amazing girl and she used to have so much confidence.
“It hurts my heart listening to these thoughts I can’t take away from her,” Vella said.
Vella also admits to having felt similar to Olivia when she was in middle school in that she, at times, did not feel good enough or just wanted to fit in.
“I think it’s harder now because everything they do is photographed and put on Instagram,” she said. “And they edit their pictures, and if they don’t look perfect, they feel less about themselves.”
Olivia said she’s overwhelmed by the recognition she and her poem have received, and that it’s cool to have people from all over the world contacting her.
Much of the response has been positive, Vella says, but she’s also been careful to limit what her daughter is seeing and hearing from outside influences.
Olivia, for all her self-awareness, is still 13, after all.
You can tell in the wistful way she describes her perfect world. In it, Olivia says, she would choose comfortable over cute, burst into song, dance a lot and throw glitter everywhere.
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