You Can Make a Difference: My First Speech Experience

determination

“Determination” by Michael Broyles (Creative Commons)

By Jaritza Dejesus

I was another day closer to graduation. My G.P.A was looking good. I wasn’t behind in any of my classes, feeling so at ease. I could literally already visualize my family and friends cheering me on as I walk across the stage, my daughter grasping on to my left hand, and my right hand reaching for my diploma. It didn’t always feel this easy.

My journey was a tedious one, with constant ups and downs, especially being a mother at a young age. Traditional school didn’t work for me. I tried meeting with a tutor at the library and getting all my work done, but it was short lived when I was constantly in and out the hospital with my daughter, due to medical issues. Eventually time passed, and she outgrew her illness, but I was still stuck not knowing what to do about school. I needed to be able to continue financially supporting her, so school started becoming farther out of reach for me. My mom was my only support system and was willing to help but was unable to watch my daughter because she worked morning shifts.

Time passed, and with luck I ran into an old friend that shared the same struggles I did with school. She started telling me all about Manchester Adult & Continuing Education, a program with evening hours that gave me the option to earn my high school diploma, so I went for it! Once I was back enrolled in school, I felt there was no stopping. Having my mom’s support already, I gained the support from my teachers, counselors, and even the principal. Although this program was super convenient and one of the best school experiences I’ve ever had, people were unaware of this alternative way to earn your High School Diploma. Since this was an unadvertised program, there was decreased number of enrollments. The director had an upcoming meeting at the Board of Education regarding the effectiveness of the program, and I was asked to present my story and provide others with the importance of the program. My first thought in my head was no way! I can’t write a speech. To also present it? My palms immediately began to sweat with the thought of it, and my heart began racing. However, as bad as I wanted to say no, I wanted to help spread the word.

The writing process began. I’ve done speeches before but only ones I was assigned in class, never one of this magnitude. So, I started to ask myself questions. What makes my story moving? Most importantly, what makes my story relatable to countless others? Everyone I’ve known that took a break from school always had difficulties finding their way back, especially unexpectedly starting a family so young. The stress and responsibility sometimes become too much that people lose sight of how important in the long run it is getting your education. I knew everything I wanted to talk about, but still I continued to feel discouraged on getting everything on paper in speech form. I wanted it to sound as smooth as a melody as I read it aloud in front of a panel that included every member from the Board of Education. I went to Ms. Pascascio and with a pep talk, and some guidance, I finally completed a rough draft of my speech.

Whenever Ms. Pascascio walked into a classroom, she’d always make even the gloomiest kid smile. She was always dressed to impress. She dressed professional yet stylish, from the glasses she wore down to the trendiest heels. Her smile so warming and her voice was so gentle, filled with so much compassion, you could hear the love she had for her students. If you were a senior that year, she was your go-to lady! She was always willing to help anyone out whether you were assigned to her or not. She looked out for every one of us as if we were her own kids. She was one of only three case managers available to assist seniors with whatever needs or questions they might have. But Ms. Pascascio, she was one of a kind. She never turned down a kid that sought help from her, senior or not.  She was the definition of passionate towards her job. Two words I’d use to describe her are caring and persistent. She was committed to helping every student become their best selves. She motivated everyone to push through every obstacle, every doubt we allow to discourage ourselves.

I had so many topics I wanted to share that night but didn’t want to talk too much about things that weren’t relevant to the effectiveness of this program. So here was my biggest challenge: starting the elimination process. For me, it was as difficult as expecting a toddler to understand multiplication. So I did what any good writer would do, and asked my audience. I bounced ideas off of everyone and anyone who took time to listen to my speech. After getting both positive and negative feedback, specifically from Ms. Pascascio and several teachers, I knew exactly what to write after all.

I always valued suggestions from my teachers, but most importantly from Ms. Pascascio. I related to her in many ways. While trying to finish up school, I was going through a lot of things personally. She experienced similar situations herself growing up, so with that connection, she’d always give me great advice. On to further myself to go to school for social work she would give me a lot of insight and suggestions about where to start this journey into developing myself and reaching my goals.

I decided not to write so much of myself, but more of the support I received while enrolled into Manchester Adult & Continuing Education. It wasn’t just another school I was writing about; it was more than that. Staff that worked there were 100% dedicated and passionate. They understood that life isn’t always easy. You can always count on an unexpected obstacle in life. But they were there to remind me every day that I can do it, that I was not alone.

Feeling anxious I got out my car. As I raised my head from the ground, the breeze of the late afternoon gently caressed my cheeks, and the sun was just inches away from being out of sight. Walking towards the baronial building to the right of the parking lot, I was greeted by welcoming signs of The Board of Education. Upon arriving early, I headed to the bathroom and took a few minutes to recite my speech to myself before members of the Board and the staff representing my school arrived. The time came, with everyone entering the room I started to doubt myself, and began to ask, “Can I really do this?” It was as if my counselors and mentors were mind readers or maybe they read it on my face. They began spreading words of encouragement. With the sudden urge to run from fear of failure, I took a deep breath and shook away all the bad nerves.

After the Board discussed a few minor issues around the town, it was my time. I walked up to the podium and without hesitation began reading through my speech. Struggling to avoid keeping my head from being glued down at at my speech, I looked up. I had everyone’s full attention. I noticed things I hadn’t noticed when I first entered the room. There was a huge camera pointing directly at me recording every word I said. I instantly got hit with a wave of anxiety. Looking back down at my speech my words looked unrecognizable. Frantically trying to find where I left off, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Ms. P. silently telling me to breathe. She was as smooth and quick like a gentle cool breeze on a hot summer day. She immediately helped find my spot. Feeling relieved knowing she was behind me, I finished off the rest of my speech flawlessly.

Having the opportunity to present that speech for the Board of Education made me realize how much of impact it’s had on me. I can do anything I set my mind to. No matter how far out of reach it might seem, I can do the unimaginable with a little courage and determination. I was always that kid growing up who avoided spotlights, no matter how small. Spelling bees, dance recitals, even having birthday parties made me feel uneasy because of being put front and center for everyone to see. I’ll forever be grateful for this opportunity because it helped me grow as a person. I became more confident in myself. I was no longer scared! In fact, because of that experience, I ended up doing a speech for graduation which had a crowd three times as big as the Board of Education. Yes, I was nervous, but I was so determined. It overpowered my fear. If I was asked to speak for my graduation before experiencing my Board of education speech, I would’ve never had the courage to present it, especially on such a big and special night.

If I was able to change anything about my Board of Education speech, I would change the mindset I went in with. I was so worried and anxious about it.  That night after the speech, I felt so silly because I did what I always said I couldn’t. So, I’ve made it a personal goal of mine that the next time an opportunity is thrown at me, no matter how far out of reach it may seem at first, I will go for it. No one can stop me from reaching my goals besides myself.

Course: ENG 095 Basic Writing & Reading Strategies, Fall 2018
Assignment: Literacy Narrative
Instructor: Kevin Lamkins
Instructor comments: Aside from this being just a great story, Jari employs great use of description and discussion of significance. She vividly describes setting and key people in the narrative. Her attention to the significance of the events makes the story even more impactful.

Photo Credit: “Determination” by Michael Broyles, licensed through Creative Commons