Aubrey Young is making her mark by helping ease the ridicule and oppression imposed by intolerance.
The 17-year-old Butler High senior appears to have never faced a day of hardship or self-doubt. She has starred in countless plays, musicals and dance performances. Her teachers rave about her accomplishments, and her bubbly personality draws people to her wherever she goes.
She's the winner of a North Carolina Theater Conference Excellence in Acting award, and has been offered scholarships to Lenoir-Rhyne University and Greensboro College.
Young also has suffered with mild dyslexia throughout her life.
When she was younger, she felt bad because she had to take different classes than her friends.
She says now she just embraces it.
"We joke about it now, how I spell like the Chick-fil-A cows," she said, laughing. "But I don't let it stop me...
"I'll go to school with my hair purple or with a wig on. I'll watch anime and go to comic conventions. I try to define my own life. Some people think that's awesome. Others are like 'You're weird, I don't like you.' "
When it was time to decide on a theme for her Senior Exit project, Young had many options. With such a passion for the arts, it would have been easy to focus on her interests. However, a friend's experience persuaded her to pursue a more difficult topic. Young became outraged when her friend was forced to break up with his girlfriend due to differing views about music.
"I decided to do my project on tolerance and judgment," she said. "To show that things aren't always what they seem."
Her teachers feared there would not be enough research to support her paper on how people judge one another. Young broke the subject into categories of intolerance such as sexism and racism. She found research sufficient to support her project. She also decided the best way to advocate tolerance was to show how intolerance affected people.
Using Facebook, Young sent out an unusual request to everyone on her friend list. She asked them to film themselves talking about misperceptions people have made about them, and what the truth really is. She then asked that they spread her request to others.
Young had around 80 people eager to share their stories. Still, others decided not to participate in the video, which would be posted on YouTube.
"They were still just too unsure of themselves," Young said.
She said some of the stories made her laugh, others made her cry, and some made her angry.
"I was most outraged by the story of my friend, Savvy, whose family was threatened after 9/11 because they are Muslim, even though they had nothing to do with it. They are American citizens," Young said.
"One of the stories that really touched me was a woman who talked about how she was large-busted and how she couldn't do anything about it, but was teased and judged anyway. That really hit home for me."
Young created a 12-minute video that captures the stories of 16 people and reports statistics about intolerance.
The project is now complete.
Young said she hopes that her video and message will continue to spread. Several people, including a Girl Scout leader, have promised to show the video to student groups.
Young's video also is the inspiration for two upcoming musicals at Butler. Theater teacher Barbara Mager is crafting the plays about tolerance that will debut this month.
Mager hopes to have Young's video run before or after each play.
"She really inspired me," Mager said. "We need to be open to people with differences. We need to be more understanding and need to reach out to people, especially students."
According to Mager, Young is one of those rare students. She is a leader, a friend to everyone, and has a strong work ethic.
"We're really going to have a void when she leaves," Mager said. "She's just a good human being."