YARMOUTH — Margaret Elder – a three-sport athlete, straight-A student and well-known volunteer in the school and community – exudes confidence.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Gearing up for Villanova University in the fall in pursuit of a career in medicine, Elder, who goes by Greta, reflected on her last four years.
“I came into high school in a pretty bad place when I was a freshman,” she said.
Elder was bullied via an app called Yik Yak, which allows users to post anonymously about anything, or anyone, in a certain region.
For whatever reason, Elder said, she became a target.
“It ripped a lot of my confidence away,” she said. “I’m someone with a pretty strong voice and for the first time in my life, that was taken away from me. … A lot of people were speaking for me from behind a phone screen.”
It took good friends and supportive mentors, Elder said, to regain her confidence.
“I’m lucky to have grown up in a place where my teachers, peers and parents have really been strong role models and guided me through school to be the person that I am,” she said. “… It all comes back to being your true self.”
Though difficult at times, Elder said, staying true to herself throughout high school came largely from discovering her passions.
“If you find something that you’re really passionate about, you can really run with it,” she said.
Her own battle led her to lead the high school’s Green Group, a mental health education group that allows students the opportunity to come together and participate in facilitated discussions around mental health and wellness in the school and greater community.
“That’s become a big part of my life … being someone that has struggled with mental health,” she said. “There’s a lot of people having those same anxieties (and) I want them to have a system of resources. … Our main goal is to break the stigma around mental health in high school. … It’s really powerful to me”
Elder has also long been passionate about athletics. This year, she captained her cross-country, alpine ski and lacrosse teams. She also volunteers with Unified Basketball.
“It’s been a great leadership opportunity to learn how to captain three very different sports. Two that are co-ed and one that’s a very small group of girls,” she said.
Elder said she’s also always felt strongly about the importance of health and nutrition, which she honed in high school by playing an active role in Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors’ Lunch Crunch program.
During the school year, Elder also ran the high school’s “nutrition closet.” Every Thursday, she shops at Hannaford with YCAN grant funding so that each Friday she can pack five bags for families at the William H. Rowe School. She’ll often pack a couple extras for families at the high school, too.
Typically, Elder said, the bags are stocked with ingredients to make “moderately healthy” meals: pasta, sauces, rice and vegetables, as well as snacks.
“I always had food in my pantry growing up,” Elder said. “I thought everybody (did) because all the houses look the same in Yarmouth and people come to school dressed the same. … I realized that wasn’t true no matter where you live and how affluent a community may seem.”
This summer, she’ll help manage the Yarmouth Farmers Market by assisting in the expansion of the market’s food voucher program.
Until then, Elder said she is focusing on spending her last few days of high school with her peers before graduation, which will be held on Saturday in front of YHS at 1 p.m. She’ll also be writing a speech on her journey through high school that she’ll deliver at convocation on Thursday, June 7, at her church, the First Parish Congregational Church at 116 Main St.
After moving to Maine from Seattle, Washington, in second grade, her family hopped from church to church in search of a service that was the right fit for them. Elder found it in the Congregational Church and went through a confirmation process in eighth grade.
Telling her story to her peers on Thursday, Elder said, will feel much more comfortable, and safe, given that she’ll do so at her church.
“I hope (my speech) has an impact on people. I don’t think people really think that I’m vulnerable, but I (can be),” she said. “I want people to see that you can be fearless and vulnerable at the same time. The most important thing is to be fearless. But the hardest thing is to be vulnerable.”
Elder’s underlying message, she said, is that “if you love life, life will love you back.”
“I want to make sure no one ever loses the hope that I did,” she said. “It’s not always easy to love life and sometimes it takes a little help from your friends. That’s what Yarmouth has done for me.”
Yarmouth High School senior Margaret “Greta” Elder in the kitchen at Yarmouth High School. Each week she pays it forward to her community by packing bags of nutritious food for families in need.