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TCU Magazine "Class Notes"

Girl power

Shannon McLinden '97 (MBA '98) is showing an entire generation of teenage girls a better way to think -- and to live.

By Nancy Bartosek

Shannon McLinden is on the phone again. No matter that it's 2 a.m., she knows it's already tomorrow for this overseas client.

McLinden doesn't mind; this dynamic 24-year-old thrives on this pace. This month she will hire 10 new employees, lease and furnish office space in Dallas and, thanks to new venture capital, launch her two-year-old Wow Media Group in a big way.

What's really wow-some, though, is that this is the same Shannon McLinden who was snatched from death by a bystander after purposefully stepping in front of a speeding car more than a decade ago. The same one who later stopped eating, and nearly stopped living.

McLinden was 14 and weighed 87 pounds when she wrote in her journal . . . When I looked in the mirror, I just bawled. If I was a guy, and I didn't know me, I'd say I am butt-ugly. My thighs touch; my arms bulge; my hips are huge. I should be the "before" picture on a Weight Watchers commercial.

She later added that passage to her book The Me Nobody Knew, a self-revealing autobiography about her teen years published in 1998.

The book is about McLinden, but the same story could have been written about millions of young girls in American society.

Youth and promise.

Yet, despair.

After a night of smokes and drinks, I woke up to see the sun slipping through the tear in the window shade, the woozy effects of Bud Dry still pooling in my head. Stale, smoke-saturated air coated my throat like liquid cough syrup. UUUhhpfftgguuughstfmoh. I surveyed the room. A boy was crouched in a corner, snoring with his mouth open. Crushed beer cans were piled like a pillow behind him. Kim and Rena lay in sleeping bags on the floor, the heads of two boys propped on their legs. The stereo was scratching some Iron Maiden song -- something about killing the dead. I sighed with complete mental exhaustion. Lord, I hate that obnoxious rattle.

Beginning that day, Shannon climbed out the depression she had buried herself in. Several years later, when she was a happy freshman at TCU, a boy she befriended in middle school committed suicide. A childhood lisp had united the two, but unlike McLinden's, Phil's never left.

"His death shocked me," she said. "I realized I could have been that depressed if I had not climbed out of it, it really is that bad."

She marched into her seventh-grade English teacher's office the day after the funeral: Let me talk to the students. I have something to say.

"I just was so overcome with emotion and knew these kids needed help," she said. "There's such a stigma behind depression, and young girls can't talk about it."

The response was overwhelming. Parents began asking about the person who changed their daughters' lives. The other middle schools in the district invited McLinden to speak that year, and every year since.

McLinden's mission was clear: Show the girls they wouldn't always feel awkward and out of place in the world.

In 1998, a TCU class inspired her to write The Me Nobody Knew. Its startling honesty stung parents but inspired thousands of teens.

"So many girls have talked to me and written me and said, 'This is my life,' " McLinden said. "But it's not me; they connect because they see themselves in my story."

The Me Nobody Knew is in bookstores and school libraries across the nation and is being distributed now in Thailand and Denmark. It is on the accelerated reader list throughout the states. Border's bookstore in Plano selected it last year as a top back-to-school book, which landed her on Good Morning Texas, and she appeared on a NBC affiliate along with the popular band *NSYNC in her home state of Minnesota.

McLinden speaks regularly in her hometown and at local bookstores in Texas. Despite thousands of fan letters from girls, her book still frightens parents.

"They want to believe their kids don't know about such things, but they already know," McLinden said. "They know about drugs and drinking and wanting to be popular. They know about hating themselves and their lives."

Now happily married and nursing a thriving new business, Shannon still personally answers every letter, every e-mail.

"I remember this milk commercial I used to see," McLinden said. "I wished so much that I could look in the mirror and see what I would look like in five or 10 years. I knew I would get happy, but I needed someone to show me that my life would change, that I could have control over it.

"That's what I want to provide, this mirror to the girls: This is how you get through it, and there are others out there."