MORAVIA — Jane Clementi remembers her son Tyler's smile.
Jane told Moravia High School students Wednesday morning that Tyler was a caring person and a talented violinist who had a passion for learning about different things. Despite that "radiant smile" she saw every morning, she said, Tyler had hidden his sexuality from her, which she said was difficult for her to grapple with.
Tyler committed suicide at age 18 after his Rutgers University roommate outed him as gay in 2010, generating national headlines and spurring conversations about bullying. Jane, who founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an anti-bullying organization, spoke at an assembly at the school's auditorium.
Although Jane noted it took a bit of time after his death, she said the family decided to start the foundation. Among the group's functions is dealing with bullying in schools, work places, faith organizations and other places and addressing challenges facing LGBTQ youth. She said she was never the type who relished addressing rooms full of people, but she never wants another person to suffer what Tyler went through.
"Our family will never be whole," Jane said.
She said she wants the differences in human beings to be celebrated and not targeted for abuse. Jane encouraged the students to be ''upstanders" — people who stand up when they witness a bullying situation and make others feel safe by acting compassionately and respectfully. She said she believes people who bully have issues of their own that need to be addressed and may engage in bullying to become more popular. She noted that bullying can come in many forms, from intimidation to cyberbullying, which she said is common among young people, especially with the rise of social media.
"It's not just kids being kids. It's not just a joke," she said.
Jane's appearance at the school was prompted by the school's National Honor Society, which organized the anti-bullying assembly. Senior Elijah Davis, who is the president of the society, said that the topic was suggested by group adviser and guidance counselor Shannon Taylor. Senior Sydney Smith, who is also with the society, said she is aware of bullying in the school and believed Jane's presentation could help address different forms of bullying.
"At Moravia, we're a small town," Davis said. "We don't have a lot of people, and so often that has the connotation of being small-minded, not being open to people who are different, and we wanted to recognize that here in Moravia we do have people who are different. Not just in sexuality, but in everything, and we want to not just accept those differences and tolerate them, we want to embrace them and recognize what makes Moravia great."
Society members will challenge students in homerooms to join in an anti-bullying pledge Thursday. Students who have been bullied or have helped in a bullying situation will able to anonymously post their stories in an online portal, school principal Bryan Ford said. He urged students to not simply listen to Jane's words and then move on.
"Be moved by it. Make a change," Ford said.