Cassandra Cooper never dreamed that one Facebook post would set off such a chain of events. After revealing that no one would sign her son's yearbook, her words caught the attention of a celebrity hero.
Like most bright, young boys his age, Brody Ridder headed to school every morning, eager to learn new things. But although he was an intelligent student, his time at school wasn't always the smoothest...
Brody lived with his mother, Cassandra Cooper, in Henderson, a small city in Adams County, Colorado. Cassandra drove her son to school every morning and picked him up every afternoon, asking how his day went. All she ever wanted was happiness for her son, who was her pride and joy. But it wasn't always that simple.
A Promising Student
On the surface, there didn't seem to be a reason for Brody to have any problems at school. He was a smart kid who managed his time and always made sure to do his best work. He even enjoyed doing extracurricular activities, such as playing the violin.
But despite how smart he was, there was one thing about going to school that bothered Brody. It wasn't because he wanted to spend his days playing instead of learning - after all, he was a disciplined child. Rather, he wasn't too fond of the other kids at his school...
He's "Been Through a Lot"
Brody had faced a lot of bullying the past few years at school and didn't have many friends. Cassandra worried about her son and how the cruel treatment his classmates showed him would affect his future. Little did she know, her son's entire world was soon going to change.
But before the major shift in Brody's life, fellow students at his school gave him a rough time. "There's kids that have pushed him and called him names. Brody has been through a lot," she later told the Post. But one day, something happened that was too much for Cassandra to keep quiet about…
The Five Signatures
Cassandra had gone to pick Brody up from school on his last day of sixth grade. Looking forward to hearing all about her son's final day of his first year of middle school, she arrived at the parking lot with a big smile on her face. But as Brody walked up to the car, she could tell something was wrong.
Cassandra's heart broke when Brody got into the car and handed her his nearly-empty yearbook. The pages were blank except for five signatures: two of them were teachers - two others were by students. But it was the fifth signature that devastated her the most.
A Heartbreaking Realization
Brody had signed his own yearbook. "Hope you make some more friends," he had written to himself before signing it "Brody Ridder." Cassandra's heart sunk as she stared at the nearly-blank page, wondering why her precious child hadn't made any friends at school.
Cassandra knew her son was a very sweet boy who could never be mean to others. She wondered where it had all gone wrong. The mother had made sure to set good examples for Brody throughout his life, along with all the efforts she made to help her community.
A Cry for Help
Cassandra's Facebook page was filled with posts about donations to good causes, hoping she could bring hope and happiness to people's lives. But she was at a loss for what to do when her own son wasn't enjoying his time at school. So she took to social media to express her grief - and it's a good thing she did...
As she wrote the Facebook post, Cassandra had no idea what it would lead to. "My poor son. Doesn't seem like it's getting any better. 2 teachers and a total of 2 students wrote in his yearbook. Despite Brody asking all kinds of kids to sign it," the emotional mother revealed.
"My Heart is Shattered"
"So Brody took it upon himself to write to himself. My heart is shattered," she continued, before adding, "Teach your kids kindness." Below the caption, she added the photo of her son's yearbook, where two teachers wrote a few sweet words and two other students merely signed their names.
"Thank you for having been such a unique and fun individual," one of the teachers wrote. Her message went on to say, "You are such an amazing kid, and I truly believe you will accomplish great things. If you ever feel sad or bad, don't worry because every day is a new start that will be happier."
A Newfound Hope
A few hours after posting the photos with the heartbreaking caption, Cassandra began to notice something. The post quickly gained a lot of support online, with her Facebook friends commenting on how sweet Brody was and how cruel school kids can be sometimes...
Among the several sympathetic messages the mother received was a comment from one user that read, "This is so heartbreaking." A fellow mother sympathized with Cassandra's situation, writing, "Still would love to get our kiddos together, my daughter doesn't have lots of friends either and gets bullied."
Brody and his mother were happy to read all the encouraging messages, completely unaware of the rollercoaster their life was about to be taken on. Soon, the heartbreaking post had received hundreds of reactions and more than 50 shares. And they kept on coming.
There were even users outside of Cassandra's friend list on Facebook who became aware of the situation. They read the devastating post and decided they wanted to help. One by one, social media users began to fill the comments section of the post with requests to sign Brody's yearbook.
Thanks to social media users who were touched by Brody's story, word had spread so wide that people were now sending more personal messages - even handwritten letters, to show their support. Cassandra posted photos of the letters to Facebook, adding an emotional caption to the post...
People Brody didn't know had officially read the now-viral post from various states in the country - soon, there were 1,000 Likes on Cassandra's post, as well as 84 shares. Brody's mother soon realized a significant wave of kindness was going around here - but she had yet to learn just how far it would reach...
America's Best Friend
"Guys… I can't. These letters are beautiful," she wrote. "'America's Best Friend.' My whole heart… I promise we are getting through all the letters! You all have a friend in us." Cassandra was stunned. She had never expected a wave of kindness like this to come from a single Facebook post. Little did she know…
She would soon find out just how much power her words would have. People began sending her videos of themselves facing the camera, telling Brody what a great person he is. Cassandra created a sweet recap out of the many clips that were sent to her, and uploaded the heartwarming messages to Facebook.
Bringing the People Together
Soon enough, Brody's story reached the Washington Post, who wrote about a young boy who prompted a group of high school students to make a change in the life of a sixth grader they didn't know. "Always remember to teach your children kindness," Cassandra wrote when she shared the article.
"That's pretty awesome - all these people came in to show him what's up!" commented one Facebook user named Ben Hawpe. The article was read by thousands of people across the country. Needless to say, Brody was now instantly famous - and pretty soon, his story was reaching some pretty prominent names.
Surprise Care Packages
Brody was sent a package of products from CVS, along with a note that read, "We recently came across your inspiring story and wanted to send you into summer break with a box filled with goodies to kick off the best time of year! Summertime should be filled with smiles, and we hope this box puts a smile on your face."
And they weren't the only company to reach out to Brody. GoPro sent the 12-year-old a camera, along with a handwritten letter that read, "Dream big Brody, and big things will happen!" And they were right - because soon enough, all of Brody's dreams were about to come true when his story reached one particular person.
Heading to Hollywood
After several media outlets began to report Brody's story, word reached the young kid's favorite man in Hollywood: 53-year-old actor Paul Rudd himself. After hearing that the sixth grader's classmates wouldn't sign his yearbook, the star decided to do something completely unexpected...
The Ant-Man star reached out to Brody and his mother to set up a FaceTime chat with his young fan. Following the conversation, Brody also received a handwritten letter from Rudd. Cassandra couldn't believe what was happening. But that's not where this story ends.
"It was great talking to you the other day. It's important to remember that even when life is tough that things get better. There are so many people that love you and think you're the coolest kid there is - me being one of them!" Paul Rudd gushed to the young boy.
"I can't wait to see all the amazing things you're going to accomplish," the actor continued. His words inspired Brody and helped him see how many people around him were rooting for him. Cassandra couldn't contain her excitement - she uploaded a video of Brody chatting with Paul Rudd to Facebook.
A Dream Come True
"Something AMAZING happened today!!!! Brody got to talk to Paul Rudd! ANT-MAN!!!! Like this this real life?! Pinch me now! Brody was so excited!" she shared on Facebook. "Shout out to Paul Rudd, and his sister Mandi for reaching out and setting this up! You truly made Brody so happy!"
The post quickly gained over 1,000 reactions, with users expressing how happy they were to see Brody's dreams come true. "I love this so much!!! I'm so happy his story is making such a difference. He is an awesome kid," a user named Heather Lee commented.
A Priceless Package
If that weren't enough, the Ant-Man actor also signed an "Ant-Man" helmet. When the package arrived in the mail, Brody's mother couldn't believe her eyes. Thanks to social media, we got to see Paul Rudd's gift to the young boy, as well as the handwritten letter.
Brody keeps the signed helmet safe in his bedroom. "We put it in one of those little helmet cases," Cassandra told NPR. "He's so proud of it." She later added that when Brody went back to his school after his mom posted his inspiring story, even more high schoolers showed up to sign his yearbook.
According to the mother, Brody is grateful for the support he's received from students, parents, companies and - most importantly - Paul Rudd! "He is just over the moon," Cassandra said. "He is so excited. He feels hopeful for next year. He's excited to try to put himself out there to make more friends."
She also added that parents played a huge role as well. "Parents need to teach their children kindness, open up that dialogue. And if you see your child being mean to somebody else, talk to them about how that could possibly make them feel. Talk to them about intent versus impact," Ridder explained.
On Texting Terms
Brody Ridder and Paul Rudd have since become close friends. Not only did they have a meaningful conversation via FaceTime, but they also keep in touch over text. Cassandra shared a screenshot of one of their exchanges, where Brody said, "Your my favorite superhero," and the actor responded, "You're mine."
The young boy was even invited personally by the cast of Dear Evan Hansen, to go see a performance of the show on Broadway. Neither Brody nor his mother could believe how such a heartbreaking story could end so happily - honestly, neither could most folks online.
Coming Full Circle
After several news outlets were able to reach Brody's mother, she shared that her son had been bullied by kids at his school in the past. But he went on to receive such overwhelming support that made Cassandra believe that kindness really does come full circle.
Students later revealed how they had organized their visit to Brody's school to sign his yearbook. One 17-year-old student, in particular, named Joanna Cooper, was able to relate to Brody's story and immediately stepped in to do what she could to help.
"I'm going to get people, and we're going to sign his yearbook," the 11th grader decided. "No kid deserves to feel like that." She later revealed that she remembered how life was when she was Brody's age and how difficult it was to fit in with her classmates.
"Signing someone's yearbook was all the rage," she explained. "That people would tell him no and deny him a signature, it just hurt my heart." So, the teenager was determined to put all her efforts into turning Brody's situation around. So she made several phone calls…
More People Speak Out
Cooper contacted many of her friends and arranged a visit to Brody's homeroom class the next day. Little did she know how much her efforts would mean to the kid - nor that there were other students her age planning the same thing for the young boy.
Another high schooler named Simone Lightfoot noticed Ridder's post and thought, "I'll get some of my friends, and we'll go sign it." Like Joanna, she could relate to Brody's struggle, remembering how hard it was to make friends at such a young age.
An Underlying Issue
“When I was younger, I was bullied a lot like him,” she revealed. “If I could do one little thing to help this kid feel a little better, I’d be more than willing to.” It seemed to many children were able to relate to the feeling of loneliness Brody had been experiencing.
Yet another student who shared her sympathy with Brody was 14-year-old Maya Gregory. Although she was now in eighth grade and had friends to support her, she also remembered how big of an issue bullying used to be when she was in middle school, just like Brody.
"No one helped me when I was in that situation," Maya recalled of her past years at school. "So I wanted to be there for him." She, too, called up her friends to help turn Brody's day around. They went to visit his school on May 25th, after the yearbooks were sent out.
Brody was surrounded by a large group of people who wanted to let him know it was possible to make friends in this world. Although he was initially shy when he met his supporters from social media, he later confessed that their visit "made [him] feel better."
Bringing Positive Change
Cassandra Cooper noticed the change in his spirit as well. “Just seeing him light up, it felt really good,” said Cooper, who is hoping to spearhead a schoolwide yearbook signing next year to ensure that this doesn’t happen to another child. “It was a small thing, but it made him so happy.”
The most important thing moving forward, she explained, was that these students' efforts inspire others to bring happiness and positivity into the lives of others. After all, we can never know what someone - no matter how old or young - is going through.
A Domino Effect
The efforts of the high schoolers worked. As they began to fill the pages of Brody's yearbook with their own signatures, they found that other students in Brody's class got up to do the same thing. The ripple effect of their kindness showed Cooper how meaningful it is to look out for others.
"It really showed us that coming in to make his day was already having an impact on the people in his class," the mother shared. For the upperclassmen, their visit wasn't just a matter of signing Brody's yearbook, but also making an effort to get to know him.
Words of Wisdom
The teenagers asked Brody about his hobbies: how he enjoyed playing chess and fencing. They also had some words of wisdom for the young middle schooler, who would be heading into a new school year in a couple of months - and into even more challenges.
Brody's visitors had encouraging conversations with him about making friends at school. Having gone through the same experiences as he was, they also offered him valuable advice on how to deal with bullies at school. They connected with Brody beyond adding signatures in an otherwise empty book.
A Friend For Life
“It made me feel like I was not alone,” Brody said of his time with the high schoolers. Maya even promised Brody he would always have a place in her social circle, and he could find her whenever he needed her. She gave the young boy her phone number and even met with him for ice cream, along with a few of her friends.
She revealed how she could relate to Brody's experience with bullies and assured him, "Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you." School administrators also found the students' kindness very touching and weighed in on the issue of bullying in schools.
“It’s Up to Us"
“A lot of students are struggling with peer relationships and social skills,” noted Brent Reckman, chief executive at the Academy of Charter Schools. “It can be really tough to be a teenager,” he continued. “I was really impressed with how our students stepped up when they saw a peer in need.”
Brent Reckman also added that school administrations have a major role to play when it comes to tackling the issue of bullying. “It’s up to us to figure out how to help kids and families with it, but it’s a challenge faced by all schools right now.”
Hope for the Future
Cassandra couldn't agree more with his sentiment. When she posted the story of her son's experience with bullying on Facebook that day, she had no idea it would have such an effect. Swarms of students, several media outlets, two companies, and Paul Rudd had all rushed to Brody's rescue.
She hopes Brody's story - and the people who helped give it such a memorable ending - would set an example for how school students - and community members as a whole - should treat each other. "It made me feel like there's still hope," she said. "Not just for Brody, but for humanity."