Getting rejected en masse by your peers and teacher in fifth grade due to your lack of belief in God quickly colors your perception of humanity.
However, there came a time when I realized that I couldn't hold my head low and attempt to fly under the radar anymore. I began to realize that I wasn't alone, as I had felt in the past. Fellow freethinkers, similarly unwilling to face the hostility of the vocal religious community in my town, privately shared their disdain with me at the suppression of their opinions, all while being forced to drive by the town hall nativity scene every December, or endure bible distributions by various nonprofits visiting the high school campus.
I became very vocal about my nonreligious affiliation, specifically my belief in secularism, attempting to alleviate the stigma surrounding atheists in my community.
It may be my wistful perspective, but I feel like I have made an impact on my community. Hopefully, a day will come when fifth-graders won't fear being ostracized by the most important social groups in their lives for their nonreligious affiliation, but until then, I feel I helped make progress.
Matthew Joy, 18, recently graduated from Glendora High School in California and plans to attend Chapman University in the fall.