Secretly, I had a powerful voice. I furtively longed to express myself. But I barely talked in class, because I never knew the right answers. I always stumbled in my efforts to wing presentations. Nevertheless, in 8th grade, my friends forced me to try out for Speech and Debate with them, ignoring my arguments about how public speaking would kill me. To my surprise, of all my friends who forced me to try out, none of them made the cut. Somehow, I did.
I would write, memorize and recite poems in front of strangers, in a moving manner, to a crowd of biased jerks who would judge me as a person completely. I felt discouraged. One night, I sat on my bed with my journal and pencil in hand. If I had to speak, I wanted my words to inspire. “Once upon a time,” I began writing, “There lived a young girl, with a huge heart and huge dreams…” After 10 minutes, I stared at the finished result. The honesty appalled me. I would never want to read it in front of anyone.
I found myself in a classroom, barefoot, standing in front of our speech coach, Mrs. Owen, reciting my poem dryly and emotionless, unwilling to expose myself. I finished, and she looked at me slowly. “This poem of yours is brilliant and has so much potential. It’s nothing to be embarrassed of.” I bit my tongue. “Just by hearing you say this I can tell you’re a strong person. Only a strong person would have the courage to write that.” I tilted my head with disbelief.
“I want you to imagine your dad is sitting right there,” she said, pointing to the desk in front of me.
“I can’t,” I said, shaking my head.
“What does your dad’s room look like?”
“When he gets home from work, would you talk to him?”
“No,” I said, puzzled.
“Then what does he do when he gets home?”
“Look, I don’t see what you’re getting at with this,” I reply, rebelliously. She squints, eyeing me closely, carefully. “I’m trying to get you to imagine your dad because I want you to say this honestly. I don’t want you to feel like you need to hide anything, and I know you wouldn’t be dishonest with your parents.” The words stabbed me in the chest because I never thought my parents would understand. I placed a finger on my wet eyelids.
“Pretend your dad is sitting right there, and that he loves you, cares about you, and truly wants to hear what you have to say,” She stressed, gently.
“You’re making me cry,” I sputtered.
“That’s okay,” she said, gently. She gave me a minute, and then urged, “Now try it again.” I took a deep breath and began.
After the last few words, everyone clapped. My voice had strength and power, and I felt completely unashamed. I had spoken up for myself for the first time in my life. I would never be soft spoken again. “That’s what I’m talking about,” Mrs. Owen said, smiling with approval. When I caught my breath, she walked up to the front of the classroom and placed her hands on my shoulders.
“Stand confidently when you say this,” she said. She pulled my shoulders back, elevating my spine, and then lifted up my chin with her fingertips. My eyes met her gaze.
“Keep your head up high,” she told me, “and just speak.”
From my autobiography