Student behind the story speaks out

Within days, Kierston Drier’s letter went viral.

The note she wrote and taped in a University College restroom stall – a gesture of compassion to young women who, by way of graffiti, shared their innermost struggles – was everywhere, with thousands of likes, shares and comments on Facebook, The Huffington Post, the National Post, making even the cover of Yahoo! News, among other outlets.

The fourth-year English and Criminology student noticed the restroom confessional, prompted by a scribbled question asking young women to share the worst day of their lives. Responses included mentions of rape and an eating disorder, among other struggles, and Drier responded to each with a page-long letter.

“To the girl with the eating disorder,” she wrote, “I promise you, although I don’t know you, you are beautiful.”

Hers inspired other letters and notes, taped up in the restroom soon after. It sparked viral compassion online and in social media, gathering the media’s attention.

But no one, until recently, knew who was behind the letter, or why it was there in the first place.

“I thought, ‘I’m famous and nobody knows my name,’” said Drier, who came forward in a Globe and Mail article last week.

“I struggled a lot with coming forward. I really didn’t want to do it at first. Very few people knew the story behind it. There’s a reason I didn’t put my name on (the letter). But one of my friends told me, ‘You think you don’t have a story to tell, but there is a reason why you did what you did that’s deeper – and if you have a reason for it, you should tell it. It might encourage somebody else,’” she continued.

Drier was born with a learning disability called dysgraphia, posing barriers to writing and manifesting itself with dyslexic, motor and spatial challenges to learning. The severity of this disability was significant for Drier.

“In some cases, I could be classified as mentally retarded. On a scale, or bell curve, 50 is average, 20 is borderline. My disability falls below the first percentile. I didn’t learn to tie my shoes until I was in high school and I was almost illiterate until the fourth grade,” she explained.

“I can appreciate the people who went into that bathroom stall feeling like no one understood them because I understand what it feels like to have no one get you. That angst, I understood it.”

And while there has been an outpouring of compassion as a result of her letter, some comments Drier noticed online only underscored the importance of her coming forward and sharing her struggles.

“I spelled a couple things wrong – I’m not a good speller. And people (in online comments) were saying ‘Oh, she’s Canadian because she can’t spell privilege.’ It was picked on for the spelling and they picked on it for the wrong reasons. They assumed it was because I was Canadian, not because I may have a learning disability,” she said.

What’s more, Drier said she genuinely sympathized with the struggles written in the bathroom stall and the anonymous faces behind them.

“Everything I read on that bathroom stall was either something I experienced personally or had seen first hand effects of. I wanted these people to know that somebody heard them, so I replied,” she continued.

To those facing struggles, Drier, who credits an understanding and supportive family for helping her overcome her own, has another message.

“You can’t look at your shortcomings your whole life or you won’t get anywhere. You have to seize the things you have and you have to make them work for you. You can’t be defined by the things that have hurt you. The world is better when we support each other.”