High school graduation is an important moment in a teenager’s life. But one member of the Riverside-Brookfield High School Class of 2023 chose not to attend the graduation ceremony last month, because she was hurt by a mean-spirited comment on Twitter that was part of what has become an unsavory senior tradition.
On the night before graduation some seniors post, sometimes anonymously, on Twitter under the hashtag #LastNightasanRBseniorConfessions, often cringeworthy “confessions,” often of a sexual nature, about their time in high school.
The senior confessions hashtag and tradition at RBHS dates from at least 2016. This year, a zero-follower account bearing the name of an RBHS senior – posted about classmate Kira Conroy, saying he had a crush on her “throughout middle school till she got fat.”
Conroy, a standout volleyball player at RBHS who set a school record last fall for the most digs in a single season and was named the Metro Suburban Red Conference’s most valuable player in volleyball, saw the post on the morning of graduation and was distraught.
Although she attended the graduation rehearsal that morning, she skipped the senior picnic that followed and could not bring herself to attend her graduation ceremony that evening.
“An hour before the ceremony she showed us the tweet, and told us that she wasn’t going to participate (in the graduation ceremony),” said an incensed Brian Conroy, Kira’s father at the June 13 meeting of the RBHS Board of Education. “My daughter was bawling, my wife was devastated, I was infuriated.”
Kira Conroy, 18, also spoke at the June 13 meeting immediately following her father, a former Brookfield village trustee and a former District 95 school board member.
Appearing poised and confident, she pointed out to the school board that suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 24 and that cyberbullying increases the risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in teenagers.
“The negative body image perpetuated by cyberbullying incidents that focus on appearance, such as calling someone ‘fat’, can contribute to the development of disordered eating patterns and a distorted self-perception,” she said. “I’m grateful for being in a place in my own mental health journey where my response to such a hurtful statement is to advocate for the school to do better, while hopefully preventing future students from experiencing what I have.”
Both Kira and Brian Conroy expressed disappointment with how school administrators reacted to their complaints about the tweet. Immediately after his daughter showed him the tweet, Conroy said he went to RBHS, arriving about one hour before the graduation ceremony.
He said he had a brief conservation with Dean Alberto Jaquez, who called in Principal Hector Freytas. Conroy asked Freytas to take action and to at least question the male student under whose name the tweet about his daughter was posted.
According to Conroy, Freytas told him that there would have to be an investigation and that anyone can create a Twitter account. Conroy said he asked Freytas if he had asked, or would ask, the student under whose name the comment was made if he had indeed made the tweet. According to Conroy, Freytas said the student could just deny it, implying that questioning the student would be pointless.
“Dr. Freytas did nothing,” Brian Conroy told the school board. “Not only did he not ask the question, he embraced the individual involved when he walked across the stage and received his diploma, and in so doing, enabled him.”
Freytas did not respond to an email from the Landmark asking about his response to the comments of Brian and Kira Conroy.
A week before graduation, Freytas sent a message to all seniors asking them to “be a good digital citizen and avoid negative social media commentary know[n] as ‘RB Senior Confessions.’”
School board president Deanna Zalas had little to say about the incident or the comments of the Conroys.
“Social media has toxic elements, but I will not comment on a specific student discipline matter,” Zalas told the Landmark.
There was apparently no discipline involved, and less than 24 hours after the tweet, the student who may have sent it was no longer an RBHS student.
Kira Conroy was also disappointed by Freytas’ reaction to the tweet.
“For the last four years, Dr. Freytas has preached that ‘we love you, we care for you, and we have your back,’” Kira Conroy told the Landmark. “Unfortunately, in this situation, I felt none of those things.”
Brian Conroy said that no RBHS administrator reached out to his daughter in the aftermath. Both Conroys called on the school board and administration to do more to stop the senior confessions tradition or at least monitor it more closely.
“I often tell my children that there are two types of people, those that let things happen and those that make things happen,” Brian Conroy told the school board. “The administration has demonstrated that they are willing to let things happen. You have a problem here. It is time to get in the weeds a bit and shake things up.”
Kira Conroy spoke with more sadness than anger.
“The fact that someone can openly bully and verbally attack another student without any repercussions from the school leads students to believe that his behavior is not only accepted, but allowed,” Kira Conroy told the school board. “At the end of the day I lost respect for the administration and the relationships I thought I had with my superiors. More than anything it makes me sad and disappointed that this was how my four years at RB came to a close. So do better.”