Sixth Former Rosie Randolph '16, of Front Royal, VA,, addressed the School community at Church Assembly on Thursday, October 29. Rosie talked about how leaving her strict, small-town family, and joining the Portsmouth Abbey community, enabled her to finally think freely and obtain a true education.
The full transcript of Rosie's talk follows.
Have you ever wondered how it feels to be brainwashed?
When I was a kid, my parents taught me that the sun orbits the earth and evolution is a myth. I was never vaccinated, learned to fear doctors and secular government, and thought that Obama was the Antichrist, buoyed to power by Freemasons, homosexuals, abortionists, and the atheistic media.
I grew up in a small mountain town in northern Virginia, which would be isolating enough without the added layer of exclusion which comes from membership in a fanatic religious community. My four siblings and I were home schooled, and our only approved social interactions were with the other kids in our bizarre little sect of Roman Catholicism. We were allowed to have friends over twice a year: once on our birthdays, and once on the feast day of our patron saint; sleepovers were absolutely out of the question. My mother took us to church daily, and led us through afternoon and evening prayers while my father went to work.
We were forbidden to read anything not on an approved list of books and authors, and so I mostly grew up on tales of the saints and political commentaries that bashed feminists, evolutionists, and non-Christians. Without a TV or even a microwave, there wasn't much to keep me entertained but reading, and so I sped through the hundreds of religious books in our library before I was even 12, absorbing all sorts of terrible ideas along the way.
Back then the world was a horrible place full of monsters; I remember being terrified just going to the mall, seeing girls in tank-tops and tight jeans and feeling mortified as I swished over to Yankee Candle in my ankle length, lace-hemmed dress. My mother would make comments about the spiritual state of all the people we passed, telling me in detail what their fate in the afterlife would be while covering my eyes whenever we walked by Victoria's Secret.
I had so many questions and doubts, and no way to answer them; but when I was about 10, we discovered that my little brother, Nathanael, has a learning disorder, and things changed. My three older siblings were off at school, so I was left at home to care for him while my mother went to daily Mass. My chance to educate myself had finally come, and during the 45 minutes that my mother was gone each day I made Nathanael lunch to keep him occupied, then biked a mile and a half to the library to take out forbidden books, which I hid under my mattress to read later. I read everything from Harry Potter to the Qu'ran, and found my worldview infinitely expanded.
The card house of lies my parents had built fell to pieces, and as the inconsistencies I had questioned my whole life were resolved, I felt as though I had woken up from a bad dream.
Being drugged is the closest parallel that I can draw to the feeling of being brainwashed; my new discoveries made my brain feel crystal clear for the first time in my life, and I tried to share them with the other kids at my church. That was a terrible mistake. I was bullied mercilessly, to the point of being pinned down and "exorcised," which involved the other children pouring holy water on me and carving a cross into my hand (those are some pretty interesting scars, let me know if you want to see them). My emotional state fell from excitement down to terrible depression. This continued for four years, the horror and suffering of which I can't possibly describe in so few words; but I could do nothing. People ask me why I came to boarding school; it's because if I had stayed in Virginia for even one more year, I don't think I ever could have recovered from the trauma. I truly love my parents, and, as confused as they are, I know they also love me with all they have. I've never seen them as distressed as when they sacrificed so many of their values to send me out into the world, but that gift from them meant so much, and I'm happy to say that over the years they've softened a bit in their philosophy (I can wear pants now and own a computer).
Portsmouth Abbey and the Diman Scholarship saved me. I know we're probably still the most conservative boarding school out there, but the environment here is so accepting and loving nonetheless that I've found a home I never had in my life. I was taken in here at the worst period of my life and offered the independence to learn and explore without abusive censorship. We all like to complain about hard this school is, and how conservative, myself included; but treasure the education you receive here; it's so easy to take for granted. I'm ecstatic to see every one of you here today knowing that you've all overcome so much and worked so hard to get this education (even if it's just your parents making you). Every human being deserves to be educated in the truth. If the Abbey hadn't taken me in, I could very well still be wallowing in the abuse and lies I grew up in, just like so many of the poor kids who tormented me. Instead of fearing those people, I now feel bad for them. They are victims; incredibly underprivileged, but will never know better.
That's why I take advantage of every opportunity offered to me here. Instead of staying drugged up in a community that smothers dignity and truth, I'm here, surrounded by people who inspire me every day. You're all amazing, and I'm so excited to see how you all use your smarts to change more lives like mine. We have a poverty of education in the United States; next time you come across somebody savagely ignorant, I hope my story will help you to take pity on them. They are masses of wasted potential; and only people like you, by continuing to expand and value learning, can save them.