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Friday, September 15, 2006

My start as a public speaker...

I remember the day so clearly every time I think about it I relive it. I was in third grade. Up to that point I had been painfully shy in every way. My social skills amounted to practically nothing. I had no friend, the teachers probably didn't even know I existed, and the chances of getting noticed by the administration were slim to practically none. I am almost certain that if I had continued my silence in class and out in the play yard I would most likely be one of those silent and mysterious people one cannot figure out; what most people refer to as "weird." One day, my third grade teacher, Ms. Figueroa, was reading to us from a children's book. It was the story of some ducks, all in a line, who had gotten into some mischief of some kind. I always paid attention in class; my lack of participation was not due to the proverbial day-dreaming activities of third graders. But that day something happened. It came at me so quick I could hardly recognize its significance until years later. The teacher asked, "What color are the ducks?" My comprehension of the question was immediate. Without hesitation and totally out of the control which had mastered me up until then, I raised my hand. "The ducks," I answered, "are yellow." That was the moment my life changed. Existentially speaking, that moment clinched a milestone in my life. It would have been significant as well if I had just plainly answered, "yellow." But no, I went all out--again without hesitation--and answered in a complete sentence. Jean Paul Sartre states that unquestionably, "[t]hings are exactly what they are and behind them there's nothing." I suppose that my third grade moment--my initiation into public speaking--can be summarized by Sartre's statement. The ducks were yellow. It was clear to me then as it is now. The teacher had turned the book toward us when she asked the question. I saw the moment as an opportunity but also as a catalyst of sorts. The ducks were indeed yellow and the answer flashed though my brain begging for an outlet from the sound chamber my skull represents. The answer was the exit. I could have internalized the moment, claim the answer to myself inside of myself. Now I make my living by standing in front of people and practically performing (I am a teacher) in front of others, often lecturing for over 30 minutes or even 80 minutes blocks of time. And it all began with that not-so-innocent answer. I say not-so-innocent because in the course of the years since that day in third grade I have--from time to time--spoken to fast, not thinking my answers through and hurting people unintentionally. The questions have, of course, changed, but could the answers be as simple as yellow ducklings? They remain yellow. Some answers do not change.


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