The voice of the student body

The Dial

The voice of the student body

The Dial

The voice of the student body

The Dial

Guest Essay: MockTales: The Journey Through TikTok Fame

Editor’s Note: This piece is an adaptation of Tommy Troso’s Chapel Talk given to ninth and tenth grade students on January 4th 2024. 

When I was younger, I had dreamed of becoming famous. I even went so far as to audition for America’s Got Talent in the fifth grade. However, all of my attempts had been futile, and I eventually forgot about my goal. That was until fame finally struck in the most unexpected way possible: on an app called TikTok. I am going to tell you the story of my overnight rise to fame and teach you everything I learned from life as an influencer.

I started my account in June of 2020, the summer going into my freshman year of high school in an attempt to escape the boredom of the 2020 lockdowns. My username was Tommy’s Mocktails, where I posted videos of myself making “mocktails:” non-alcoholic mock cocktails. I posted my first video a week after my 14th birthday and went to bed, not expecting anything from it. I woke up the next morning to a complete shock: 10,000 views and 1200 followers. I was overjoyed to see the unexpected attention my video had received.

In this video Tommy made, it received 3.7 million likes. This level of engagement by Tik Tok users is not uncommon for Tommy’s Mocktail page. For this video he was making an orange creamsicle drink.

My rise to fame was rapid and unprecedented. I reached 10,000 followers in just over a week and 100,000 in just over a month. As my following continued to grow, I was met with an avalanche of positive feedback, one person saying “I hope my son grows up to be like you” and another saying “Your videos make my day better.” I was thrilled to see that my content was bringing people joy. 

As my following continued to climb, my account transitioned from a casual hobby to a commercial platform. I took the opportunity to spread my wings as an entrepreneur. I secured brand deals and sponsorships with brands like See’s Candies, Stanley, Kahoot, and Coca-Cola. I worked with Atlantic Records, a talent agency that manages artists like Don Toliver, Bruno Mars, Lizzo, and Ed Sheeran. I gained revenue through branded merchandise sales, and I established Tommy’s Mocktails LLC. I organically grew my account to over 700,000 devoted followers who supported me in everything I did. 

With these unfathomable achievements came stress. I quickly became obsessed with the numbers. I remember I’d lose sleep by refreshing my page to see the numbers rise for hours. It was like a drug to me. I became gluttonous in that I always wanted more than what I was given. My content began to shift away from things I actually wanted to post and to things I thought would maximize engagement and give me the most views. It transitioned from a hobby to a chore. Once brands and companies began noticing me, the issue was exacerbated as money became a variable in this equation. I knew this wasn’t healthy, but I wanted to push myself to success. I had trouble maintaining a balance between being Tommy Troso and being Tommy’s Mocktails, and the latter began to overtake the former.  I felt like I had lost ownership of myself and that my worth as a person was equivalent to my likes and views. 

In addition to this internal battle I was facing, I was confronted with an external one as well. Coupled with the immense positivity I was receiving in my comment sections and personal messages was an onslaught of hatred from friends and strangers alike. People would tease me in my comments and tell me to kill myself in my DMs. Multiple people went so far as to create “hate pages” dedicated to ridiculing me. I took the mockery in good fun, but deep down I was hurting. Quickly, the thousands of positive comments were outshined by the fewer yet more impactful hate comments. Did these people mean it? Why would anyone want to hurt me? These questions kept me up, and I have not found answers to them yet. I became so terribly embarrassed of both Tommy’s Mocktails and Tommy Troso. I would walk through school with my hood up and head down, trying to draw as little attention to myself as possible. I would flinch at the sound of laughter in the hallways out of fear that it was directed towards me. My confidence was completely shot. 

I had to teach myself how to prevent the bullying and the obsession from completely taking me over. I remember I used to stay up late at night and just scroll through the comments, reading and analyzing each one. Every time I saw a hateful comment, I would respond to it. Eventually, I stopped doing that, because I realized that my responding was only making me feel worse about the situation. I channeled my energy into the positive comments and responded to those instead. I eventually just stopped reading them altogether. I quickly realized that these hateful comments weren’t nearly as impactful as I had originally thought them to be. 

In addition, I realized that my videos were helping people with real issues in their life. I received thousands of comments and personal messages from people who said that my videos were helping them recover from alcoholism. This realization re-instilled my pride in myself and helped me to realize I had a real purpose on the internet and in the world. It made me think of what it really meant to be an “influencer.” I feel like the term “influencer” has been lost in translation as social media has grown more of an everyday presence in our lives. I don’t think an influencer is merely someone who has a lot of followers. Influencers are role models; they promote good in society, and interacting with the sober community helped me realize just how much I was helping people. I felt like I was truly embodying what it meant to be an influencer. Recognizing this pushed me to use my platform for good. I made videos promoting causes I cared about and used my platform to learn about entrepreneurship, which I quickly learned that I had a passion for.

Furthermore, I incorporated my experiences as an influencer into my academics. In 12th grade, you are able to pick which English class you take. The class I chose is called Panopticon Prime, where we read literature and analyze how characters behave when they are being watched. I chose this class because I know what it is like to be watched by thousands, in some cases, tens of millions of people. I bring this unique perspective to class with me every day. Additionally, the production and marketing of my merchandise taught me an incredible amount about the supply chain and e-commerce, which has served me well in my Economics class. Outside of the classroom, I learned to be an entrepreneur and build a business from the ground up. In college, I plan on studying business and entrepreneurship, and I am confident that the skills I learned through Tommy’s Mocktails will assist me in the college classroom.

Credit: Maura McGlarry
Tommy gave his Chapel Talk about his Tik Tok account and his road to fame. He enlightened the ninth and tenth grade students on what he learned from his experience as an influencer. Additionally, he gave students advice on how to approach different challenges throughout high school.

I’ve since retired from my time as Tommy’s Mocktails, but the lessons I learned stay with me as I navigate my life. As you continue throughout your high school career, you are going to have ideas; you are going to create things. No matter what it is, and no matter who you are, there may always be someone who dislikes it or even hates you for it. What matters is not who dislikes your ideas, but it is about how you react to it. You can let the critics get to you, and you can be like freshman-year me: quiet, reserved, and insecure. Or, you can ignore the harmful criticism and be like senior year me: unapologetically myself. Criticism in your life is inevitable, but how you react to it determines how much it will impact you.

 I also want you all to be empathetic, and understand that what you say has weight to it, even from behind a screen. Even if you are saying something to a famous influencer who gets thousands of comments daily and you don’t think they will even see your comment, trust me when I say they will.

In fact, I want you all to be influencers in your lives. Promote kindness towards those around you. Be a role model for others. 

Secondly, I want you to take ownership of your high school experience. At 14 and 15, you are incredibly impressionable, and the words of others can begin to shape you and dictate your life. I remember I would change things about myself and my videos to appeal to my TikTok users, which ultimately made me unhappy. I learned to take suggestions with a grain of salt and focus on things I really wanted to do. My hope is that you never change for the approval of someone else.

Lastly, as you go through your high school career, you will be confronted with numbers. It may be likes or followers on social media, such as in my case, but it will also be grades, SAT scores, or rankings on your sports teams. You can’t let these numbers consume you. And trust me, I have had my fair share of these moments as well. I’ve had plenty of bad grades, I took the SAT four times because I wasn’t happy with the scores of my first three, and I was cut from the JV squash team my junior year. You can’t let these things define you, because they don’t. It can be so easy to obsess over these numbers, trying to be a perfect student or athlete or get a certain amount of likes on social media. I am here to tell you, as someone who has been on all parts of that spectrum, that none of it really matters. I had to learn that I was Tommy Troso, not just Tommy’s Mocktails. I hope you take away that, at the end of the day, you are not a number on Instagram, a grade on a report card, or a spot on a sports team. You are who your friends think you are. You are your favorite song. You are who your family thinks you are. Those are what make you you and nothing can take that away from you.

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