Whitney was the high school sophomore whose sad story with a happy ending captured America’s attention a year ago.
She was humiliated when students named her to homecoming court as a joke, but this small farm town rallied behind her — paying her way to the homecoming dance.
The story was covered by media across the country. She was interviewed by Katie Couric, chatted with Kid Rock, sought out by Lindsay Lohan. Books and movies were proposed.
“I felt like I was the president,” said Whitney, 17, now a junior at Ogemaw Heights High.
Since her storybook ending, she has lived happily ever after. Sort of.
All the attention left some bruises. She lost several friends in the wake of the publicity.
Her school district, West Branch-Rose City Area Schools, is one of 899 in the state that, as required by a 2011 law, have instituted anti-bullying policies. Only four districts have failed to do so: Highland Park, Ithaca, Voyageur Academy in Detroit and Michigan Educational Choice Center in Detroit.
To prevent a repeat of the homecoming prank, West Branch-Rose City now requires students to say in writing whether they want to be considered for homecoming court.
Whitney declined last week. She said she wanted to give other students the chance.
Asked whether she was worried students would have tried to humiliate her again, Whitney said she wasn’t.
“They don’t want another situation where piles of reporters come to the school,” she said.
When a story about Whitney appeared in The Detroit News last year, the family’s phone began to ring. And it wouldn’t stop for several weeks.
From 7:30 in the morning to 11 at night, they received as many as 200 calls a day.
Anderson Cooper. Dr. Phil. Ellen DeGeneres. National network news wanted an interview. TV talk shows wanted an appearance.
The calls came in even as the family was clearing voice mail space on the phone. When they stopped answering the phone, they began receiving texts.
The Kropps decided to go on “Katie,” hosted by Couric, but the calls kept coming from competitors. “Wouldn’t they reconsider? What time should the callers show up?”
The family felt like their trailer, in a sleepy patch of woods one hour north of Saginaw, was the center of the universe.
“They called from daylight to dark,” said Whitney’s father, Jason. “We had a lot of late nights.”
Then, as quickly as the media had descended on this rural burg, it was gone.
Life with little drama
Following the media onslaught, Whitney has returned to the no-less dramatic life of a teenager.
She broke up with and got back together with her boyfriend. She was hired and quit a job at Burger King.
Her Facebook page is full of kitten videos, self-taken snapshots and swooning over good-looking guys.
“Hiya, I’m Whitney Lynn Kropp,” she wrote on her page. “Everyone kinda knows me.”
Nothing came of the movie or book offers.
The meeting sought by Lohan also fizzled, much to Whitney’s consternation. Whitney’s mother had nixed the idea.
“She’s not quite the role model for her,” Bernice Kropp said with a chuckle.
Whitney’s brush with fame has changed her life in little ways.
Occasionally she is recognized by a stranger who had heard about her.
And, even a year later, news stories about bullying in other parts of the country still mention her.
She created a Facebook page, “Voices of the Unheard,” as a place for bullied people to share their stories.
After high school, she wants to become a photographer.
Whitney said she hadn’t thought about the homecoming prank until the past few weeks as the new school year beckoned.
She said she was heartened by the flowers and messages she received from people around the country who praised her for showing up the bullies by going to homecoming.
“I feel like I did a good thing,” she said.
At Ogemaw Heights High, the corridor walls contain famous sayings that inadvertently tell Whitney’s story.
“Adversity builds character,” reads one. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” reads another.
And then there’s another by William Shakespeare, who knew a little about people and how they respond to adversity.
It could be applied to a slightly awkward teenage girl who, despite a nasty prank by classmates, continues to be a free spirit, favoring black outfits and ever-changing hair colors.
“This above all,” wrote the Bard, “to thine own self be true.”