One of the first things you notice when you meet Haley Petrowski is her aura of confidence and her professional demeanor. The reigning Miss River Raisin has spent a lot of time appearing before the State Legislature to talk about her anti-cyberbullying initiatives. The presentations helped pass Public Act 457, which prohibits cyber-bullying in Michigan. The law takes effect in March. Petrowski’s fearlessness and forward-thinking, which paved the way for the legislation, is evident in her talks with peers and classmates at AC. But she wasn’t always this brave.
Petrowski’s remarkable journey began during her sophomore year of high school, where unkind classmates made her think of the same act too many teenagers still ponder today.
“My sophomore year of high school, I was the victim, or survivor I would say, of cyberbullying that resulted in me attempting to take my life,” Petrowski says. “Luckily I wasn’t successful, but at that point I realized that I had more to do here, and I was willing to share my story and step out of my comfort zone so someone doesn’t have to feel the way I felt.”
Part of Petrowski’s recovery came from the very source that caused her such pain in the first place, online. She began to hear about a website called Project Semicolon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to mental health disorders. She became instantly connected to Project Semicolon’s community, eventually becoming a member and advocate herself. She even bears a semicolon tattoo on her ribcage next to Ecclesiastes 3:4, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” These tattoos are souvenirs Petrowski carries from her experiences of cyberbullying.
Since becoming a member of Project Semicolon, Petrowski has been a leading advocate in the state of Michigan for cyberbullying awareness and prevention. She has toured the state telling her story and providing initiatives on how cyberbullying can be put to a stop in the future. This eventually caught the attention of Congressman Tim Walberg, who helped Petrowski bring her efforts to the forefront of the Michigan legislature.
“I worked to have an anti-bullying resolution pass at the state capitol,” says Petrowski. “The day after I did that, I met with Tim Walberg, told him what I was doing, and he said ‘Haley, do something big on the state level and we’ll talk about a national level’”.
Petrowski lived up to that demand, passing the aforementioned Public Act 457 law with the help of Representative Pete Lucido who drafted the bill.
“He (Lucido) used my story as the catalyst to push that bill forward,” says Petrowski.
After the anti-cyberbullying law’s successful implementation in the state of Michigan, it was time for Petrowski’s mission to reach Washington D.C.
“About the beginning of the semester,” says Petrowski,” Walberg and I met here (Adrian College) with his aide and Steve Barkway from WLEN, and we just talked about how we were going to get this law done on a national level or if we were going to do it state by state. Two days later, I get a call from Walberg’s aide saying that he wanted me to be his guest at the State of the Union.”
Petrowski attended this year’s State of the Union address on Feb. 5. Quickly, she realized that congressional members on both ends of the political spectrum were supporting her devotion to end cyberbullying.
“Every single representative I met at the bipartisan reception told me they were proud of me, that they were inspired by me and that they were ready to do something about cyberbullying in their state,” says Petrowski. “It wasn’t just Republicans or Democrats supporting me. What I’m doing isn’t political, I’m helping people, not particular parties.”
Besides meeting with representatives from different states that supported her cause, Petrowski was able to have a discussion with President Trump and write a letter to First Lady Melania Trump to talk about her own anti-cyberbullying campaign “Be Best”.
Petrowski laughed, “Representative Walberg’s office said they were going to be following up closely with it (the letter) to make sure Melania reads it personally. So we’ll see what happens with that.”
While Petrowski is starting to see change in the state and national level when it comes to cyberbullying, she says there’s still a long way to go, especially among her own age demographic.
“People are all about getting those retweets and likes to get clout,” says Petrowski. “And I don’t think people sometimes take into consideration the negative impacts those posts will have on others. Sure, that video you took of someone might be funny at the time, but they could go home later that day and really struggle with what you did. I just want people to step back and think are those likes and retweets actually worth it? Because to me hurting someone for it is not.”
At the end of the day, the only thing Petrowski really wants is for people to see the best in one another, to avoid hypocrisy and bringing others down to raise yourself up. That’s what she asks of people who listen to and share her story, even if they do it for reasons other than her.
“Nothing I’m doing is really for me,” says Petrowski. “Because I’m strong now. But what I do is for those people who are struggling to have a voice. I’m here for you, and we’re going to something about this.”