LEWISTON — Returning to his hometown high school, Gov. Paul LePage told Lewiston students Tuesday that bullying can be stopped by making it socially unacceptable.
"(It is) so critical that we bring civility back into society,” he said during a school-wide assembly at Lewiston High School.
“Bullying leads to other things," he said. "It leads to domestic violence.”
LePage knows about that. His father beat him so badly that he left home for the streets at age 11.
After one beating, he was hospitalized, LePage said.
“In the hospital, my dad came in and handed me a 50-cent piece. It was about 1960. He said, 'Tell the doctor you fell down the stairs.'”
He decided not to tell. He left the hospital and never went home. That's what domestic violence does, he said. “You just get to a breaking point.”
He spent two years living in hallways, cellars, cars, "anyplace you could go to get warm," he said. "I used to scrounge around and get food.” Occasionally he found a job, he said.
“I remember going to school with sneakers on in February. The sneakers were worn out.” He put cardboard in his sneakers to make them last. “You'd get to school, people would make fun of you, pick on you because you're the little poor kid from Lincoln Street.”
In high school, LePage stayed with friends, in three or four different houses a week with families who would “hide me out of the system.” Living on the streets hurt his education. He struggled academically in grammar school. “If you looked at my grades, until my sophomore year in high school, there's a marked difference.”
When he was 15, two Lewiston families helped him, mentoring him through high school and college, LePage said. "Today, my five children look at these two families as their grandparents.”
He was about 30 years old when he was finally able to talk about the violence he grew up with. “After I ran away from home, I never said a word about it. I never addressed the issue until I was an adult and had two children of my own.” Before he talked about it, “I was an angry person,” he said.
Domestic violence leaves scars, he said. “If anybody here has date violence, or bullying, or is involved in a home with domestic violence, seek help,” LePage said. “It is not an illness; it is a power trip.”
His childhood haunts him, he said.
“I am retirement age and I've not forgotten it; it's like it happened yesterday," he said. "So each and every one of you, I can't do any more than to plead with you: Do not bully. Do not bully another person.”
Whatever trouble students may have, education is the way out, the great equalizer, the governor said.
Students asked him what to do if they're bullied, or know of someone being bullied.
LePage encouraged them to tell the perpetrator it's unacceptable, to report the abuse to teachers, guidance counselors, administrators or the Student Council.
One girl said her mother told her that if someone bullied her, she should punch them in the face. "If you beat them they will not bully you anymore because they'll be afraid of you,” she said.
“As long as the first punch works,” LePage said to student applause, whistles and cheers. “I would not advise anybody to use that as a course of action because, guess what, there's always somebody out there who's going to punch back.”