Keep Moving Forward

Senior shares how being different from others did not stop him from keeping his self-esteem up in and out of school


Senior Russell Catletti plays against former Rider students at the Alumni vs. Varsity game

There he stood, watching kids being pushed and shoved against lockers and laughed at. He saw kids with big smiles on their faces, but he knew the hurt behind those smiles. He watched the kids who just blended in, making themselves invisible in a crowd. Kids who never raised their hands in classes because they were too afraid of receiving the label of “Nerd” and “Teacher’s Pet.” He understood that tough kid who had his head held high in public yet cried himself to sleep every night. He understood that one girl who no one knew her name yet everyone seemed to know her story. Rumors. Gossip. Jokes. Comments…. He understood because he remembered when he was in that position of feeling worthless and weak…

“Smile; Just keep smiling,” senior Russell Catletti would tell himself as he walked down the hallways in fourth grade.

Every day he would wake up and instantly camouflage his feelings with a smile that hid so much pain and fear. A smile that no one could see through nor even imagine what was behind.

People would say, “Hey shorty; how did you get to school today? a MINIvan?” and that would soon be followed by laughter of those around. Russell would join in and laugh just as hard.

“If I smile and laugh, people will think that my life is fun. But if I look depressed, people will constantly ask why… I don’t want that type of attention,” Russell said.

Fourth grade…fifth…sixth…seventh…eighth…ninth…tenth…eleventh grade passed… now Russell is in his senior year, and life still seems fun from an outside look. He still walks with a smile that’s a mile wide, and his goofy personality is well known. He says he still gets picked on for being small and “weird.”

“They say stuff without even acknowledging what they are saying,” he said. “I know they don’t mean to hurt me, but they don’t realize how much words can sink in.”

Life was almost unbearable at times but Russell knew exactly who to go to.

“Russell has always been my best friend,” Elijah Hernandez said. “In fourth grade I was the tallest and he the shortest. We were always the outsiders because we loved the nerdy stuff, and we were considered weird and people would often make fun of us. Even though life was hard for both of us, we helped each other. And to this day we continue to have that same bond.”

Russell is part of Rider’s Varsity Cross Country, Varsity Soccer and PALs.

“He has never been the biggest or the strongest, but he always had a big heart with the desire to succeed,” Coach Hill said. “I have the privilege to see Russell grow to be more mature. He used to be unsure of himself but as he has grown he became more confident.”

That confidence has helped Russell speak up now.

“People need to realize how their actions affect others, because even the person with the biggest smile can be carrying the deepest hurt,” Russell said.

Russell is more than ready for a life ahead. He plans on becoming a pilot for the United States Air Force.

“He is very determined,” Brown said. ”I cannot think of anyone I would rather have in my side. He puts forth every effort he has because he does not believe in giving up.”

Russell says that’s true and a Martin Luther King Jr. quote is his motto to life that sums it up. “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward,’” he said.