DIGHTON — When Ally Bettencourt arrived at Bristol County Agricultural High School as a freshman, she knew her days of being taunted as the “crazy horse girl” were over.
“This school saved her life. She went from despair to joy,” said Ally’s mother, Kathy Bettencourt.
The poised, radiant, accomplished young woman who took the stage June 8 at Bristol Aggie’s commencement ceremony as valedictorian was also prom queen and is heading off to college to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
She could have basked in her popularity and success without ever looking back.
But instead Ally chose to do something very brave.
The week before graduation at the awards ceremony she brought the audience to tears reading aloud her senior essay about having been bullied in middle school and about the support and camaraderie she had found at Bristol Aggie.
The senior essay question was “What advice would you give your eighth-grade self?” and Ally knew exactly what she wanted to say.
But she wasn’t just talking to her eighth-grade self. She was also hoping her words would reach other students who’d been bullied so they would know they are not alone.
“To the sweet young girl who craves nothing but a new beginning, if only you knew the things that await you. To the girl who is constantly teased for her uncontrollably frizzy hair and unwavering passion for animals, if only you knew that you would find your place in the world,” Ally wrote.
“To the 13-year-old girl who dreads going to school every morning because she knows all that awaits her is the constant bullying and feeling that she does not belong, if only you knew that you would find your second home in 240 acres, a 105-year-old building and a herd of mismatched dairy cows,” Ally wrote in her essay.
“Your days of being known as the ‘crazy horse girl’ will be over, as your entire class will be filled with ‘crazy horse girls,’” Ally said.
Ally said it would be hard to overstate how much Bristol Aggie means to her.
She met lifelong friends. Her academic teachers reignited her passion for learning and the vocational teachers are like second parents to the students, rooting for them and beaming with pride at their achievements, Ally said.
Ally, whose family runs a kennel at their home in Raynham, knew she wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 2 years old.
When she was just 11 years old, the Raynham Call wrote a story about a fundraiser Ally organized to benefit abused and neglected animals.
Her mother said even at that age, Ally was a responsible and loving friend to her pets, feeding them, stroking their fur, cleaning up after them and tending to their needs with the special touch of a true animal lover.
Ally said at the time, in 2011, her dream was to have her own horse one day and to be a veterinarian.
She’s well on her way to making that dream come true. She will be attending the University of Connecticut in the fall on an academic scholarship with a major in animal science and a pre-veterinary concentration and possibly minors in neuroscience and molecular and cellular biology. After that will come veterinary school, with her first choice being Texas A&M University.
Ally, who works as a technician at Chase Veterinary Clinic in Middleboro, said one of the veterinarians gave her a graduation gift she’ll never forget — in the form of a vote of confidence.
The veterinarian posted on Facebook, “We’re all so proud of you. You’ll make a great veterinarian some day.”
“To hear that, through all the bullying of ‘crazy horse girl’ and all the hard work, I lost it. It was such a great feeling,” Ally said.
As to the horse, at 11, Ally said she’d rather get a horse than a car for her 16th birthday.
She didn’t have to wait that long.
She saved every penny working at her family’s kennel and bought herself a horse when she was 14. Elly May is a little spitfire with a heart of gold, Ally said.
“She has a spunky attitude, but I could put a 1-year-old baby on her back and she’d be gentle and loving,” Ally said.
“She’s one of the coolest horses I’ve ever met. She’s so much fun,” Ally said.
Ally’s still crazy about horses, but now she’s proud of it and not apologizing to anyone for the very things that make her special.
When she was in middle school Ally used to straighten her naturally curly hair to try to tame it because kids used to tease her for her “frizzy hair.”
But now she’s grown it out and lets it fall wild and free. She’s come to love her magnificent, unruly mane of curls.
But more importantly she no longer wants to impress the kind of people who judge you by your hair, she said.
“If they really want to get to know me, they should strike up a conversation with me,” she said.
Finding Bristol Aggie changed Ally’s life, she told the audience on awards night.
“After four years, when you drive over the Berkley Bridge to the rising sun over Bristol County Agricultural High School for the final time, only then will you realize what a treasure you found in Bristol County’s ‘best kept secret’,” Ally said.
After her speech, mothers came up to her to thank her and she received another unforgettable gift.
This time it was in the form of an Instagram message from a freshman who told her how much her essay meant to her.
“You probably have no idea who I am, but I wanted to congratulate you on all the awards you got tonight. I hope to be like you by senior year. Listening to your essay was amazing. I felt the same way in middle school. I was the same frizzy-haired girl who got my fun on by being a crazy horse girl instead of boy crazy. You’re so stunning and smart. Best of luck in college,” the message read.
In her senior essay, Ally compares Bristol Aggie to a safe harbor where students can learn, grow and thrive.
But as she reflected on her upcoming graduation she was reminded of the famous quote, “Ships in the harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
“My dear eighth-grade self, if only you knew, as I finish writing this to you with tears welling in my eyes… Embrace each and every moment, because in the blink of an eye, you will be sailing away, full-speed ahead, from the harbor of Bristol Aggie that will forever be your home,” Ally wrote.