I Believe in Being a Role Model

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According to my parents, I was obsessed with her from the start. My little sister was born just two years and eight months after I was. To me, her arrival didn't mean having to share my parents with someone else; it meant having a friend whenever I wanted.

But as we grew older, those 32 months that separated us in age seemed to multiply. I couldn't hang out with my baby sister anymore. Not when I had friends my own age -- friends who were allowed to see PG-13 movies and walk around the mall without adult supervision. I wanted to be my own person, which meant ridding myself of my constant shadow.

I think it hurt Katie a lot that I chose my friends over her. It took me a while to realize, but that choice was a huge mistake. At the wise age of 16 I decided we should be friends again, and that I was going to set a good example for her. I wanted to be someone she could look to for advice, someone she could trust, someone she could aspire to be. I no longer thought of how decisions would affect me, but what Katie would think if she heard. It made life a little more difficult. It meant saying no to alcohol at parties – even when my friends made it seem like so much fun – and always doing my homework. But I knew in my heart I was doing the right thing.

I didn't receive a formal thank you from my sister for many years. The summer after my freshman year of college is when I realized how happy I was I’d decided to be a role model.

I was home for the summer, and it was a warm August night. I had just gotten out of the shower when my phone rang. As soon as I heard the strain in my sister’s voice over loud music in the background, I knew something was wrong.

I grabbed the car keys from the kitchen counter before she could even tell me what had happened. As I pulled up to the address she’d given me, I saw that the small gathering had turned into the party of the summer. My sister entered the car and quietly asked me to drive. She didn't say anything else the whole way home, and I didn't press her. The next morning, she told me what had happened.

Katie said all of her friends started acting really stupid, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. She said she wanted to make the easy decision and join them but one thing stood in her way. She remembered what I had taught her through my example, that the easy choice is not always the right one.

Katie had figured out easier than I had that you shouldn’t change who you are to fit in. In that moment I could not have been prouder of her or happier that I helped her make the right decision. I believe in setting a good example.

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