I think that it would be safe to assume that most people who have gotten to know me in the last four years would likely view me as a confident, successful, and secure young woman. I think it is even safer to say that I would agree with them. However, if someone had come up to me just five years ago and called me any of those words, I probably would have looked around to see who they were talking to and then silently crept away so I could avoid making conversation with him or her.
The truth is, throughout my youth, I was constantly doubting my abilities and hardly spoke two words. Although I was intelligent, I did terrible on presentations of projects because I would pin myself to the chalkboard and whisper. I would get so nervous that I would shake violently and sweat profusely. My problems with speech, in which I stuttered and slurred words together, only added to the embarrassment. This unattractive picture is similar to the one that many would paint when faced with the prospect of public speaking.
So, if I was afraid of speaking in a classroom, why on earth did I decide to join a team in which I competed and spoke in front of hundreds of others from schools all across the country? To get over my fear. Even though I was able to participate in theater productions in high school, I was always playing a role.
In theater, I never had to be myself, which gave me an escape from the real world. However, I was still afraid of speaking from my heart about issues I cared about. I thought that any word that came out of my mouth would face instant rejection. Instead of cowering in my fear of public speaking, I acknowledged it as a problem and took speech classes to get over it.
Over the course of high school, my ability to speak in public increased significantly, but my confidence did not.
I was fortunate enough to take Communication Skills with Ann Lawson. Many people told me that she was a great professor, but I had no idea she would become my mentor and friend as well.
After the first speech I gave in her class, she practically begged me to join the forensics team and I reluctantly agreed to attend a team meeting. When I arrived at the meeting, I instantly knew that I had found a group that would become my family away from home.
Through the years, I grew in my level of confidence. Competition turned into more of a rush than a fear, and students and coaches from other schools recognized my abilities. Much of the boost in confidence that I gained could be attributed to Ann Lawson and my forensics team. If I ever doubted myself, they always reassured me that I was talented. Not only did I become more confident with my public speaking abilities, but I became confident about myself as a person.
Both outside and within forensics, people noticed my development of confidence. At the last tournament of my forensics career, the National Christian College Invitational, I was determined to do well. I had placed in multiple events at all but one tournament throughout the year and knew that it was my year to promote messages that I deemed important.
The most important of these messages was the seriousness of mental illness and the fact that it is both minimized and exaggerated in today’s society. My roommate, Paige Nagy, and I decided to spread this message in a creative way through an acting category called duo interpretation. In this we portrayed characters who suffered from mental illnesses both directly and indirectly.
The story we told was powerful and people have been affected by it all over the country. At Christian Nationals our duo made it to finals, but Paige was severely sick with the stomach flu. I told her that she didn’t need to compete, but she was determined to reach more people with our message. She went to our final round, void of all energy and completely sick to her stomach, and we both performed our piece better than we ever had before.
At the end, I stood smiling in front of our audience (in which several members had tears in their eyes), proud of Paige and proud of myself. I felt confidence flowing through me, because I knew my voice was indeed more powerful than I ever imagined. Paige and I ended up winning first place, but that did not mean as much to me as knowing that people cared about our message.
After the awards ceremony, several competitors congratulated us and told us that it was well deserved. One of our judges thanked us for performing the piece and stated, “Thank you for doing that piece, and doing it so well.” She had a son who suffered from mental illness and said that she could have written our piece herself because it was so close to the reality she faced. This women was also from a school that is on the opposite coast of the country. The fact that our message was able to have an impact on someone who lived 3,000 miles away from us was really amazing to me.
Talking no longer scares me. Sure, I tend to be more of an introvert and am not likely the one who will initiate conversations, but I am not afraid to hold conversations. I go into interviews with my head held high and am able to accept compliments that people give me. I know that there is power in my voice and I am never going to forget that.
You may think it is weird that I devoted four years and countless hours to a highly academic extracurricular activity, but without it, I would probably still be trying to blend into the background.
For the first time in my life, I can look at a picture of myself or in the mirror and say, “I am a beautiful creation of God and He has great plans for me.” Maybe you were born with that knowledge, but it was something I had to learn. I thank God for the blessing of forensics, my teammates and Ann Lawson. Without them, I would still be lost in the shadows.
Amanda Maxwell is a senior psychology major.