This is the first of 20 profiles about The Gazette's Best and Brightest Class of 2014.
Listening to others has always come easily to Mark Estrada, but after being in a painful situation of his own he realized it wasn't enough.
"I used to be really, really shy," he said. "But when I was being bullied it was the most awful experience of my life and marked a transition for me. It made me move from thinking of myself to trying to help others by doing more."
Near the end of his sophomore year at Falcon High School, Estrada was bullied to such an extent that he required treatment as a patient at a mental health facility.
When he returned to school as a junior, he started TAG: Tolerance, Acceptance, Guidance, an anti-bullying club. Soon, the club grew to 25 members. TAG eventually partnered with two other school organizations to develop Operation Purple Hands. OPH provided daylong presentations at three elementary schools, which included interactive skits and revealing personal stories about being teased and bullied. Then, Estrada decided it was time to address high school bullying.
"I designed a series of social experiments that gauged my high school's recognition and reaction to outward displays of bullying," Estrada wrote in his Best and Brightest essay. "The results indicated a lack of knowledge as to what bullying is and its effects on students."
In a school assembly of about 1,300 students, teachers and staff, Estrada shared his personal story of being harassed by those he once considered friends.
Amber Villani, FHS school counselor, wrote in Estrada's letter of recommendation, "Mark's emotional nightmare and his dealings with bullying made a typically shy boy become a spokesman for change."
As harrowing as being a victim was for Estrada, he recognizes the positive outcomes, he said.
"Being bullied got me out of my shell. It made me more willing to put myself out there," Estrada said. "I used to do behind the scenes kind of work, like offering my time to someone who needed to talk to somebody. Then I realized just how big a problem bullying is and it had never hit me that some kids think about suicide. I never connected the dots. I had to step up and make a change."
Mark estrada, FALCON HIGH SCHOOL
Parents: Marcos and Dori Estrada
College plans: University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, major in nursing
Other: First place in Biomedical Debate and CPR/First Aid at Colorado HOSA's 2014 State Leadership Conference; founder Operation Purple Hands; founder TAG; president-elect Colorado HOSA; Nursing Assisting and CPR/First Aid tutor; 4.1 GPA.