By David Ruderman, USAG Vicenza Public AffairsSeptember 20, 2012
VICENZA, Italy - Rocsi Diaz knows what it's like to be the outsider.
The host of BET's flagship hip-hop and R&B video variety show, 106 & Park, talked with Vicenza Military Community high school and middle school students about self-esteem, bullying and protecting themselves on social media during a USO-sponsored visit to area schools Sept. 10.
"It's funny how my conversation five years ago with teenagers is nowhere near the same conversation that I'm having now. Now it's all about social media and how to watch yourself and watch bullies that are going to come after you, and be careful what you put up there because you can't take it down," she said.
Diaz was introduced at Vicenza High School by principal Lauri Kenney, and immediately established rapport with her audience, not surprising for an entertainment personality whose show is on air in 90 million households in the U.S. and around the world. But it's what she has in common with young adults, not her celebrity, which sealed the bond with her audiences in Vicenza.
"What a lot of people don't know is that before my journey to television and being on 106 & Park, I dealt with so many different types of issues when I was in your position, when I was in school.
"I was a cheerleader and, as most young people now, heavily influenced by what we see on TV and in magazines, and until I got into the entertainment business I didn't realize that all of that was fake. That stuff really, really does not exist," she said.
"In high school and in junior high I was so heavily influenced with what other people thought of me, what other people said I needed to look like - I was starving myself.
"At home, my family didn't know what I was going through. They didn't know that at school I wasn't cool, that I sat alone most of the time. I sat by myself because I didn't know how to interact because I thought nobody liked me," Diaz said.
The teens listened raptly as she extrapolated her personal experience to the universal angst of adolescent alienation.
"And nobody ever really knows until it's too late what the next person is going through. You have no idea what secrets people hold. Until sometimes it's too late," she said.
Diaz got the support and attention she needed, she said. She learned to eat and work out properly, but found there was a deeper layer of issues to address.
"But it was my low self-esteem that made me believe I was not even good enough to do the things I loved to do, that I didn't deserve to do because I was so worried about what other people thought of me.
"And it's always to try to impress the next person. Well, I'm here to tell you right now you don't have to impress anybody but yourself. And other people's opinion of you does not matter. Because usually the opinions that people have of you, if it's negative, it's really how they feel about themselves," said Diaz.
It's during the critical adolescent years, when youngsters are most susceptible, that bullying manifests itself in children's lives, both in and out of school, she said.
"Bullying is at an all-time high in the United States," said Diaz. "When I was in school and we dealt with bullying it was nowhere near what you guys have now with social media. How many people have Facebook accounts?" she asked.
Nearly everyone in the gym raised their hands.
"It's crazy, right? Facebook didn't even exist when I was in school - now, I'm not that old - but it didn't exist. … But what I see a lot now is social media being used to target young people, to tell them what they're not good about, what they're not good at and how they look and to downplay them or tease them or bully them. We're all not strangers to this, guys, we all know what's going on," she said.
Diaz related the story of a nine-year-old boy in Oregon who was so badly teased and bullied about his weight and his sexuality that he hanged himself. There was complete silence in the gym.
"At nine years old. Because of the teasing he was getting at school, the teasing he was getting on Facebook. You see what I'm saying, guys? You never know what your words … the words that you put out there, and the atmosphere … you have no idea how it affects other people."
Diaz talked about the added stresses and burdens that Vicenza youth bear while their parents, and the parents of their peers, are deployed to danger zones.
"You never know what the next person is dealing with," she said.
Diaz addressed the perennial teenage need to be considered cool, the illusions that some teens live by, and the reality of making it in modern society.
"It's funny because when I was in school, being prom queen and being homecoming queen and things of that nature ... being the most popular kid, in high school seemed like the most important thing in the whole entire world.
"Look at somebody that's studying pre-med and see if they care how they look like in pajamas while they're going to class - they don't care. All of that is out of the window. But the things that do matter is that way that you treat people, the relationships that you build," she said.
"And it's the type of mentality that you have to have. Because it was the un-cool kids and the dorks and the people that spent their time in the libraries and with the teachers in after-school programs who were really the ones that succeeded.
"And those are really the cool kids when you get older, too. Those are the people you want by your side. Those are the lawyers and the doctors that you want treating you because they know everything," Diaz said.
"Those are things that are going to matter in life. Not that I sat at the cool table," she said.