Niamh was at work when her phone rang. Her daughter was sobbing and talking fast. “I just said, ‘Molly, slow down; I’m coming to get you.’ ” Niamh ran to her car and drove to the school. She doesn’t remember stopping for lights, or signs, or anything, really, although she knows she must have. When she got to the school, she didn’t go in. She just ran: down the hill and across the soccer field and to the woods. When she found Molly, she scooped her daughter up into her arms and carried her back to the car. Together they decided that Molly would never go back.

At first, Niamh didn’t tell anyone what had happened at the school — not the teachers, not even her husband. “Niamh got through it by herself,” Peter says. “I think she realized I would probably have gone ballistic.” Niamh used Molly’s health, which had been poor, as an excuse to keep her home. Besides, there was only a month left of school, and they had already tried talking to her teachers so many times before. “I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Niamh says. “It was enough. Everything was getting too out of control.”

So Niamh kept Molly at home — and watched her carefully. Before what happened in the woods, Molly had already begun cutting herself, wearing long sleeves and layers of bracelets to hide the marks on her arms. “It was scary, and I was ashamed, but I wanted to feel physical pain instead of emotional pain,” she says. “I felt so alone and sad. I just wanted not to exist.” Then Peter found searches for “how to kill yourself” on Molly’s computer. “The doctor told my parents to take away sharp objects, pills and anything I could use to strangle myself,” Molly says. “I felt like I was in a bubble, constantly being watched. I wasn’t even allowed to close my bedroom door.”

Molly’s doctors told Niamh and Peter to do anything they could to bring joy back into her life. “I’d read a lot of books on positive thinking and knew I couldn’t let my thoughts turn negative, because then I might crumble,” says Niamh. “I told Molly, ‘We’ve got to figure out what you need, what you want, what the next step is.’ And Molly knew. She said, ‘Mom, I’m never going back there; I need to find another school.’ So we immediately went out and looked at schools. Anything she came up with, I’d say, ‘Okay, we need to do something about it.’ I just kept reminding her: ‘There are ways out; you’re not trapped.’ ”

Molly transferred to a school for the blind for grade 9. “I thought it would be a place where I could start focusing on myself and stop trying so hard to help everyone else understand.” And, at first, it was. Molly’s greatest passion was music, and she started writing lyrics. “It was my healthy new way of getting emotions out that I didn’t want inside me. I had felt so guilty about being depressed, but then I realized I needed to feel sad and angry, I needed to grieve the loss of the person I’d been, so I could become someone new.” Molly started singing in a band. And she started dating, something she’d been convinced would never happen. “One of the boys in my old school had told me, ‘No one would ever marry a blind girl, because it’s like buying something that’s already broken.’”

But before long, the bullying started again. “That’s when I realized I wasn’t being bullied because I’m different. There’s no reason. It’s not my haircut, or how I dress, it’s just something in the other person, and they’ve decided to target me.” At first, Molly considered leaving the school. Then she printed all the hurtful Facebook posts (she has software that lets her computer ‘talk’ to her), marched into the principal’s office and asked for help. “I thought, ‘I’ve been through this; I’ve heard these things before, and the first time I ran. This time, I need to deal with it.’ ” The principal sat Molly down with the girl at the root of the bullying, and they talked about why what she said about Molly wasn’t true, about the things they had in common. The two girls started having lunch together and still keep in touch.

Molly decided to switch back to a sighted school for grade 11. Rachel Stinson, a vision itinerant (a teacher trained to help the visually impaired), helped her transition back. Rachel could relate to Molly — her own parents had pulled her out of school because of bullying. “I remember being so broken down by it,” she says. “I thought by becoming a teacher I could prevent it from happening to other kids.”

Rachel visited Molly’s new school and talked to her teachers about how they could best support her. But at the start of each class, it was Molly who stood up and said, “Hey, I’m Molly. I like shopping. I like boys. I like parties. I can’t see, and I’m in your class, so please leave this seat empty for me.” She knew it would be less effective coming from Rachel. “I wanted them to see that I was just an average kid, like them.” In an attempt to create empathy among Molly’s peers, Rachel blindfolded the students in her gym class, then sent them out to experience Molly’s world. Once in the halls, they instantly became targets. Other students stuck their feet out to trip them, then stole some of the kids’ hats. “I think we made a difference that day, but there’s so much ignorance out there that it can feel like you’re spinning your wheels in mud,” Rachel says. Although Molly made lots of friends at her new school, the bullying never stopped completely. One day she was walking down the hall with her mother when a group of kids pushed a container of ketchup and fries into her path, calling out, “Hey, blind girl, watch where you’re going,” when she stepped in it. “I was used to it, but my mom was really upset. I just said, ‘It’s fine, Mom. This is what I deal with. But it’s okay. I have friends. I have confidence. I believe in myself and I know I’m going somewhere in life.’”

Molly finished high school and contemplated college, but she still felt she had something to prove. Her brother, Brady, long a source of inspiration, had travelled to Africa to work in an orphanage. Molly wanted to do the same but couldn’t find an organization that would take her. Then she discovered Me to We, created by the co-founders of Free the Children. Molly was invited to join one of their youth trips to Kenya to help build a school. While there, she spoke at a local girls’ school—and discovered what she wanted to do next.

Molly with her guide dog, Gypsy
Molly with her guide dog, Gypsy

Last September, Molly joined Me to We’s speakers’ bureau and shared her story about blindness and bullying with 20,000 people at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Before she stepped onstage, one of her fellow speakers (Martin Sheen) pulled her aside and asked whether she was nervous. She was. He opened her hand and placed a rosary in it. “It’s from Egypt and is made of olive pits and sterling silver,” she says. “I’ve brought it with me to every We Day event since.” During Molly’s speech, the crowd rewarded her with two standing ovations. Her family were on their feet, too, clapping until their palms stung. “Seeing her speak was just...I was in awe,” Peter says. “Molly has a real ability to inspire people and to help others who are going through something, whether it’s a disability, or bullying, or a different set of challenges.”

Molly was overwhelmed by the response from her audience. “Four years ago, no one even wanted to sit near me, and people thought I wasn’t worth anything. Now there were 20,000 people on their feet supporting me. It was a really cool feeling.” Whether she’s speaking to thousands at a We Day event or telling her story in a school gymnasium, the response is the same.

Back in the gym at St. Joseph’s College , Molly’s audience is captivated. When she talks about her music, they chant her name until she gives in and sings the first verse of one of her songs, “Let It Go.” Her voice is clear and lovely, and when she is done, the gym explodes. When she gets to the Q&A part of her talk, the girls eagerly queue up at the mic. Molly gets the same questions every time: How do you put on makeup? (She uses a sticker code—a foam bump and a hard bump on an eyeshadow palette mean it’s Satin Taupe—and a counting system for application: three swipes across her blush compact, then three across her cheek to ensure everything’s even.) What does she see when she dreams? (Molly dreams in sounds, smells and emotions. Visual memories usually last only seven years, but Molly has already lost hers —she no longer remembers what she or her parents look like.) They also want to know what she is proudest of, and that’s a tough one.

Sitting with Gypsy’s head on her lap in her bright, cheery apartment in Toronto, Molly considers the question. She is proud of overcoming her depression, of coming to terms with her blindness, of getting her own place. The apartment is proof of her independence. It smells subtly of lavender (“I burn incense because although I love candles, no one felt comfortable with me having them”), and everything has texture: The pillows on her sofa are covered in stones, shells and embroidery; even her mugs are decorated with raised bumps and swirls. There are also plenty of knick-knacks scattered about. “Because I don’t get any visual stimulation, I like to pick things up, so I can appreciate the feel of them.”

But most of all, Molly is proud of how she has taken all the hard things that have happened to her and used them to help other people. She has become an inspiration to the bullied and the bullies alike. “I’ve had kids come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Thank you for helping me realize that it does get better, and that I might feel happy again one day.’” She’s also been approached by bullies who tell her they didn’t realize what they were doing, and that she’s inspired them to change. Molly believes the only way to alter attitudes and prevent bullying is to create understanding and empathy by sharing stories like hers. After a recent speech, she was approached by a group of girls from her old school; one had a sister who’d been in Molly’s class in grade 8. “The girl said, ‘My sister told me to tell you she didn’t know what you were going through. She said to tell you she’s sorry.’ It was an incredible moment for me, because if she’s thinking that, maybe others are thinking it too.”