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National News / Education

Thursday, 28 August, 2014 1:08 PM

Three SoCal students win A&F Anti-Bullying College Scholarships

Suchi Amin, Ariana Dermand and Jacob Gardenswartz shine in the Golden State


Suchi Amin and Jacob Gardenswartz make up two of the three winners for the A&F Anti-Bullying Scholarship from southern California.


by Jason Rzucidlo



LOS ANGELES -- Some students have already gone back to school while the remainders will hit the books just after Labor Day. Bullying continues to be a huge problem in our schools nationwide. Three high school seniors from southern California stood up, did something and received scholarships for their efforts. The Abercrombie & Fitch Anti-Bullying Scholarships total $1,000 each and can be renewed for each of the four years that winners attend college.

“Bullying is a national epidemic,” said Jacob Gardenswartz, the first of the three winners from SoCal. “Research from several years ago showed that every seven minutes a child fails to attend school because of bullying. In addition to bullying in schools, you’ve got things like domestic violence, workplace bullying, elderly abuse. My program focuses on targeting this in the younger stages so it doesn’t escalate into a mass murderer as the students get older. We hope that by targeting these students younger on, we’ll be able to help prevent some of these larger scale crises.”

Gardenswartz graduated from the Francis Parker School in San Diego. There, he served as the student director of the Theater of Peace for four years. Its mission is to routinely educate upcoming generations of students about the methods to diffuse confrontational bullying situations. TOP members present interactive skits for elementary, middle, and high school students to witness approaches such as ICE, interrupt, compliment, and escape.

“We try not to say anti-bullying necessarily because we’re not anti-anything, we’re pro peace,” he added. “We have between eight and 10 different scenarios that will portray different instances of bullying. Whether it’s bullying at the lunch table or out on the field or at home or a high school job, we try to show students, rather than telling them, this is what you should do. We try to involve them in it. Right now, the Theater of Peace is only located in the San Diego area.”

Jacob was essential to the organization’s growth by assisting in establishing partnerships, raising over $10,000 in grants, reaching over 5,000 students, and receiving recognition from local, state, and national officials, including President Obama. In addition to having served as the keynote speaker at the TEDx Village Gate Summit, he is also the president of Francis Parker School’s Community Service Board, the Young Democrats Club, and the Gay-Straight Alliance.

“I’m starting a new organization with some of the high school seniors that are also involved who are also going off to college. That will be called ‘Impact on Stage.’ The goal is to take this idea of using live theater to share a message in schools and expand it nationally in schools and other topics beyond just bullying. Things like consent in terms of sexual abuse and rape cases and things like alcohol and drug abuse. We really want to show that live theater can be a great medium for sharing ideas.”

Gardenswartz learned of the A&F Anti-Bullying Scholarship during the college application process. He said it took about six months from the time he applied for the scholarship until he received it.

“When I saw this one, it was perfect for me because it’s exactly what my program does. It’s something I’m very passionate about. I saw it on some website somewhere and applied and crossed my fingers. In the end, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a recipient. It’s been really exciting. There was an awards ceremony here in San Diego. I went and spoke a little bit about my program. I was also in Chicago a little bit producing a video about anti-bullying with Abercrombie & Fitch. They said it’s going to go in to at least 4,000 schools across the country.”

He selected to attend the University of Pennsylvania this fall. His major will be communications and political science. He will hand off the Theater of Peace program to other students at Francis Parker School.

“Bullying is a growing problem in our schools, unfortunately,” said Suchi Amin, the second winner from SoCal. “Especially with cyber-bullying, which is what I’m dealing with. It’s absolutely growing how students can now communicate with each other online and they have the privacy of a computer screen to say more harsh words to each other.”

As the original founder of the chain of anonymous Facebook accounts entitled “Smile BeHappy,” Suchi launched her campaign with an initial status stating, “Today is Day one. Day one of Smiles, and day one of making people a little happier.” She single-handedly combats what she considers to be “society’s expectations of likes, followers, and image” that often distorts teenagers’ perception of themselves and reality.

“I led the Smile BeHappy Campaign, where I encourage positively through all posts on social media,” she explained. “We started off with a completely anonymous website. Everyday I would post a long paragraph or so about someone random from my school. Every single day for six months in a row I never missed a day. I continually posted positive messages and it really reflected at my school and others followed my example. What I really like to do is speak from the heart. I try not to write long essays.”

In addition to regularly honoring a “Person-of-the-Day,” Suchi accepts and post complimentary messages from students seeking to recognize others. She posts while on family vacations, during commutes to athletic practices, and discreetly while attending birthday celebrations. Suchi has received over 300 messages commending her innovative efforts to establish a communal cyber environment for over 500 students.

“My Person-of-the-Day has been totally random. I basically see who’s interacting with Smile BeHappy the most. Who’s been commenting, who’s been reflecting and who’s been taking the initiative to support the whole social media action. Those are the people that I include in that chain of positivity. It was just so exciting to see all of these comments. Someone would say, ‘Hey, can you support the drama team?’ I would say something about the drama, support different clubs/activities.”

Amin ended the Smile BeHappy Facebook campaign after six consecutive months in a very unique way.

“I wanted my posts just to be something that was an example. I wasn’t planning on making this a life-long commitment. This changed my life and everyone else can make an impact on their own life. Everyone would talk about, ‘Who is this person posting all of these things?’ I posted my picture just to say, ‘This is me.’ I’ve done all of this. I became a celebrity overnight. I’m not taking credit for anything that I’ve done because everything that I’ve done has been fueled by the people who have interacted on this page.”

The Murrieta Valley High School graduate learned of the A&F Anti-Bullying Scholarship while she was searching for scholarships online.

“This anti-bullying scholarship was totally unpredictable for me. I thought, ‘What a way to actually spread my message?’ I figured, ‘Why not apply?’ I wasn’t expecting much out of it, but they must have really enjoyed it. I thought, wow, I just won a $1,000 scholarship. After that, I realized it was also connected to NSHSS, the National Society of High School Scholars Foundation, which was an organization that I’m also a part of. They invited me for all of these different conferences, they invited me to go to Chicago to film for the anti-bullying movie that they’re making.”

Amin will study biology at UCLA beginning this fall. Although the Smile BeHappy campaign has ended, the idea is out there for others who would like to start one at their school.

Abercrombie & Fitch has sponsored the NSHSS Anti-Bullying Scholarship for the past two years. The young adult retailer says the partnership is part of its diversity program.

“The anti-bullying cause is a serious issue within this consumer group that we target,” said Michael Scheiner, A&F’s senior director of marketing and public relations. “It just made sense to just support the cause. Last year, in addition to the scholarship, we launched our peer-to-peer symposium to talk about bullying and bully prevention. In addition, we sold product (t-shirts) in Abercrombie & Fitch stores to support the cause. We haven’t announced our plans for this year yet. We will continue to support the cause and it will be bigger than last year.”

Scheiner had no comment on the upcoming anti-bullying film, which was shot in Chicago.

Ariana Dermand, the third scholarship winner from southern California, declined an interview. She graduated from Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks and will study at Texas A&M University.

As for the two scholarship winners, both offered tips to combat bullying in schools.

“There are a lot of resources for you to get support,” Gardenswartz said. “If you just go online and search, ‘I need help with bullying,’ there are thousands of websites that help students get tools and ways to get through this. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”

Amin added: “The best thing is not remain silent. If you do nothing, it’s almost as worst as being the bully. My best advice would just be to stay positive, stay strong and know that there are people out there somewhere willing to support you.”

For more information about the A&F Anti-Bullying Scholarship, visit



Photo courtesy of Suchi Amin

Amin had the opportunity to speak at the NSHSS conference in San Diego.



Suchi poses with her larger-than-life check inside her home.


Photo courtesy of Jacob Gardenswartz

The Theater of Peace program at Francis Parker School will continue even without Gardenswartz.



Jacob graduated from Francis Parker School in San Diego and will attend the University of Pennsylvania this fall.





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