from Houston Chronicle

When I entered Pinewood High School as a freshman, I had no idea what I'd be getting into. I didn't really have an identity at this point. I was your plain Jane sporting a V-neck t-shirt, jeans, high-top converse and with my hair pulled back into a ponytail and a headband to tame all the flyaways. But High school is the point in life where young people begin to figure out who they are. When I started as a freshman, I had no idea I would develop into the person I finally am. And I am who I am because of my experience at Pinewood.

Freshman, 2010
Pinewood is a small K-12 private school with fifty kids per grade, spread out on three campuses. I transferred to Pinewood in sixth grade when we were sitting pretty at the top; we were the kings and queens of the middle campus, reigning over the third, fourth, and fifth graders. Then I moved to the upper campus, where both the seventh and eighth grades were relatively painless. No group drama (that I was involved in), no worries about how I looked every morning, and not too much responsibility.

When high school came along, things quickly began to change. I started to realize that many of the students there were Mormon. This is not bad by all means, but I was never religious and if you left me alone about my beliefs, I'd leave you alone. What got to me was the fact that many of these Mormon students began to realize their faith and tried to force it on me because I was a "struggling soul." In the middle of my freshman year, I began to listen to metal music, slowly gravitating towards the hardcore scene where all the bands would play so fast and so hard their fingers looked like they were about to fall off, and the frontmen would be yelling and screaming so much that you could see his neck veins bulging. Despite this seemingly terrifying facade of the hardcore scene, I had finally found a place where I could get my aggression and emotions out and no one would judge me for it. Everyone in the audience was doing exactly what I was doing.

Naturally as I immersed myself in the hardcore scene, I began to
Sophomore, 2011
adapt my appearance as best I could to fit the image of what I thought the cute girls who listened to this music looked like. I cut my hair short (for my mom's wedding the previous year; HATED it), dyed it darker and got blonde highlights, straightened and styled it so that my bangs would cover my face, and I'd wear thick black eyeliner and dark shadow every day. I started wearing black band t-shirts from all the concerts I went to and wore black skinny jeans, but kept my converse (black, of course). I had rubber and string bracelets going half way up both my arms, and since I listened to this type of music, people called me a vampire, "emo," and "scene" in an EXTREMELY demeaning way. I was constantly made fun of for looking like a lesbian because I had short hair. I heard snarky back-handed comments everyday when I went to Pinewood. Not what you'd expect from kind-hearted Mormons, right?

Junior, post Machine Head and Suicide Silence
concert in San Francisco, 2012
I was one of the only kid on campus that looked like an alternative to the legging, Ugg, and college sweatshirt-wearing girls with long blonde hair and orange skin that roamed the halls around our campus. Other students saw my obvious differences as an opportunity to make fun of me and tease me on a daily basis. Someone even went so far as to tell me to jump in front of the train tracks (during a time when there were five plus teen suicides in one month by the train tracks at the neighboring high school), and he made sure he didn't forget to mention that he had some spare rope he could give me as a late Christmas gift. After that incident, I spiraled into a more rebellious persona than I would have ever expected of myself. I dyed my hair red (which was outrageous for how conservative the school was), I pierced my nose, and I started gauging my ears. The only thing that remained constant was that I continued listening to the same music and still wore black band t-shirts and jeans until I graduated. I went to thirteen or fourteen concerts a year, hung out with people that were into the same things as me, and I would find any excuse to not spend time with my family. When I talked about anything I did during the week, my classmates would ask me, "Did you see your family at all?" No, no I did not. I was dealing with criticism from a "family" of students at school so why would my biological family feel any different? They're the ones that sent me to Pinewood. I tried transferring several times, but they would not even bother to listen. They were convinced that I'd be put on the right path if I went to school with kids from well-to-do families.

Now, just because I looked like an obvious deviant from the general Pinewood population and listened to metal and hardcore music does not automatically deem me a Satanist (many of the hardcore bands are religious, believe it or not); with that said, I believe that this Satan-worshipping image that I put off terrified some of the students. Why else would I be the target of an insane amount of harsh criticism?

Mormons have very specific and detailed beliefs that seem taboo to most people on this planet. They come off not just as a religious group, but as a tribe, and when an outsider doesn't believe what the tribe believes, they often feel threatened and become defensive, fighting for what they believe (sounds like the Crusades all over again). The
Second from left, senior Marine Biology class, 2012
Mormon way of defending the tribe is by going abroad and seeking converts to increase their size and spread the message about Jesus Christ. I can only imagine the reason I was a target in high school was because I was in the immediate vicinity of those who were not yet on their mission, and I was one of the few who did not care to follow in everyone else's footsteps towards becoming a good Mormon. I do not know if there is a God or if there is any kind of a higher being, but I do believe that I will find out when my time to leave this earth comes. I did not follow the same college routes as most people at Pinewood. Instead of becoming an engineer or a business major, I chose to go to art school to be able to do what I love and love what I do. I didn't want to grow up to be a housewife (this, and finding a husband, were popular reasons girls had for going to BYU Provo).

To the Mormons at my high school, I was the alien. They felt threatened because there was a "dark" presence in such close proximity and they were afraid I was a virus who would infect others.  I didn't believe what they believed. I understand when someone is sitting directly in front of you telling you your faith is B.S., you can't help but feel as if you're being attacked. I can see how the Mormon students would perceive me as a threat, but the fact that I was constantly a target for conversion made me push back even harder and become even more threatening in their eyes. I can't recall the number of times students have tried to convert me just in those last three years of high school. Even when I was a freshman in college, a student that graduated one year before me sent me a Facebook message with the intention of ensuring I live a "fuller, more complete life." It was almost like I was a Boss in a video game: whoever could convert Melissa to Mormonism would gain so many points with God that they would automatically have a seat waiting for them on the highest cloud in heaven when it was their time to pass.

Myself stage diving at The Ghost Inside show in
Oakland, CA, 2013
Looking back, suffering through high school with these kids definitely put me on a path towards becoming a much stronger and better person overall, but I attribute absolutely none of my character development to the "nurturing" environment that the board claimed to provide to the student body. I quickly became desensitized to the insane amount of demeaning criticism directed at me, and as a fortunate result of that, I was able to focus on the kind of person I wanted to become instead of constantly worrying about what others thought of my appearance, beliefs, and career choices. I became who I wanted to be because I refused to swim in the same direction as the rest of the fish in the school. Even if I could, I would not change the way that my history played out.

- Melissa -

Editorial Note: This article has been retitled and a new thumbnail photo inserted to better reflect the content of this article - a personal coming of age story set in Pinewood High School. 


  1. I have a few issues with this article. Firstly, I'm am sincerely sorry to hear that you had a difficult and unpleasant high school experience. That is never something that I am okay with and I'm glad you've found somewhere you feel welcome and happy.

    Addressing the apocryphal foundations of this article:
    The title of this article is misleading. Pinewood is a secular, private high school. Of the 50 students in the class of 2013, I believe 4 were of the LDS faith.

    A more personal issue: I am a female, non-LDS graduate of Pinewood School. I didn't and don't have long blonde hair, orange skin or wear Ugg boots, even though it is written that you were the "only" student who did not subscribe to this standard. I attended a top five University and did not major in business or engineering. I have no plans to be a housewife. And for the record, I don't appreciate the generalization that is applied here to graduates of Pinewood School. It marginalizes my own high school experience, and I find it irresponsible and insulting.

  2. A respectable publication does not censor comments and instead scramble to make edits to a dangerous and insulting article. This threatens the principle of free discourse.

    If you can't defend the claims you're making, it is irresponsible to post them on the Internet.

    1. This not a professional publication, this is a school zine. Students are using Ozine to learn. We have noted your comments, agree with some of the points and have made changes to our article to reflect this. No one is trying to censor anyone.

    2. Ha, no one said this was a professional publication. It's pretty clear that this isn't professional.

      I know for a fact at least one other comment was not published. Not allowing the people who are attacked in this article to defend themselves is cowardly.

      Further, on "becoming a much stronger" person: becoming stronger does not mean becoming able to attack people. It means becoming able to defend those who are marginalized.

  3. It is sad that you were bullied in high school. I'm especially horrified by the comments made to you by that boy about trains and ropes. Teenagers can be so cruel. It's not fair. That being said, most people experience bullying to some degree, and as a Mormon (even though I didn't attend Pinewood) some of your comments feel aggressive and misinformed toward my faith. You should consider that high school is a difficult time for most people--including Mormons. You were attacked for liking metal music, I was attacked for not doing drugs, drinking alcohol, or having sex. Let me assure you, Mormonism is NOT the direction that everyone is swimming. Personal lifestyle choices are just that--personal. I'm sorry that you were criticized, but you should be careful to not speak in such a demeaning way about those who are different than you. Have a wonderful day.

  4. As someone who graduated the same year as you from Pinewood:

    Of the 50 in our class, only four to five in my knowledge were of LDS faith. I was gay to the knowledge of almost every person on campus and almost never felt marginalized. When I did, it was never from someone who was mormon. Often times, quite the opposite.

    I'm sorry if you did feel like an alien on campus, but I do not believe the onus was on the students or the school itself, for that matter. Pinewood has its fair share of issues, I will admit, but as an outsider by my very nature, I have never felt that inclusivity was a problem.

  5. There is a general issue of intolerance that weaves a motif throughout the story of your high school experience. What is the rhetorical effect of calling Pinewood a "Mormon high school" when it in fact is a secular private school? It's transparent: you're conflating your issues with the LDS faith with your issues of bullying in high school. But more importantly, blaming your experience on the LDS faith rather than the general cruelty and immaturity of high school kids exemplifies a position of intolerance, which seems to be what your article is rallying against. That is textbook hypocrisy. Are you not just as intolerant and judgmental of your classmates of LDS faith as you say they were to you? Is your condemnation of your peers' choices to major in business or engineering, or become homemakers not as condescending and sanctimonious as what you claim their attitudes toward your style and career path was?

  6. I'm saddened that you felt the need to go down a path that you claim to be "emo" and dark, but don't stereotype yourself as much as you are stereotyping the LDS faith. I am not a member of the Mormon church, but I have done some of my own research and deem many of your conclusions to be exaggerated if not false. I cannot deny that you were bullied, but it upsets me that you are pinholing this religion as an unaccepting, judgemental one. I also know Pinewood students, and from my experience, 90% of them were not orange, blonde UGG-wearers. That being said, this blog post is an opinion, but opinion articles should always have correct facts. High school is a rough time for many, so blaming your bad experience on the .1% of the LDS community within the school is just terrible, and this article could be considered to be equivalent to the bullying that you experienced. If you are going through tough times, the first thing you should do is try to pick yourself up or seek something that can do just that. I'm happy that you feel stronger because of bad experiences, but telling the world you are strong because Mormons and Pinewood School are awful is too much of a jumped conclusion.

  7. We all need to be socially accepting of race, religion, and all differences. The author is playing the victim card, pointing fingers, and placing blame. I am deeply offended by the flippant and hurtful comments. It is unfortunate you did not receive any journalistic guidance before this was published because it perpetuates the hate cycle. You have offended your high school, teachers, counselors, many of your friends, and most likely your parents who spent 175K+ on a private school education which ultimately was responsible for getting you into the college of your choice.

  8. It sounds like you had a difficult time at Pinewood but I suspect the fact that Mormons attended the school were the least of your problems. Newsflash - there are Mormon students at Paly and Gunn High, too. You stated that you couldn't deal with your own family and your behavior and actions were overtly rebellious (by your own admission). These are clearly signs of far bigger personal issues.

    Our daughter attended Pinewood since kindergarten and had some Mormon classmates along the way. There wasn't a single instance during that 13 year period that anyone of the Mormon faith - administrators, teachers, students or families - ever made so much as a mention of their religious beliefs, let alone tried to recruit my daughter to their church.

    I think there is a lot to criticize about religions but I suggest you look a little closer to home to find the sources of your problems and frustrations.


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