Speech Season is underway.

The year was 1983, I was in the 8th grade and Mrs. Hawks was my teacher. She had just announced the topic for the Woodman’s Civic Oration Competition, a speech presentation in which every 8th grade student must participate. The topic was “Presidents.” This would be the first time I had ever delivered a speech in public and if it weren’t for one, very strong teacher, it would have been my last.
The event was held in the Elgin High cafeteria. I remember peeking in the doorway and seeing the room filled with family, friends, and a panel of judges to determine who would take home the coveted Woodman trophy. I was not the first student to present, but as I watched classmate after classmate entered the room with the door closing behind them, my anxieties began to build, knowing soon it would be my turn. The door opened and my name was called. I took a big breath, positioned myself in front of the audience and judges and began to recite my memorized speech on Dwight D. Eisenhauer. “Dwight D. Eisenhauer was our 34th president born in Denison, Texas……”, and that was it. My mind went blank; I felt my heart race. I felt my face getting hot. Sheer panic was setting in as my eyes rolled upward in search of the words trapped in my head. I stood helpless for what seemed like an eternity, and then I bolted out of the room, my eyes filling with tears. As I stood in the hallway, head down in shame, tears streaming down my face, I heard the cadence of footsteps on the tile floor coming towards me. Too ashamed to lift my head and look Mrs. Hawks in the eye, I listened as she spoke. “You need to clean yourself up and pull yourself together because you will go back in that room and present your speech. You will not win, not today, but you will finish.”
I never realized the impact of those words, until my senior year of high school, when I, along with my partner Jerry Wilkinson won the State duet acting competition. I had come a long way from running scared out of a room. It is for that reason I find it both an honor and a privilege to coach speech. Read more about the upcoming Speech season in the Elgin Review.