This is a speech I wrote and gave at Toastmasters. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Route 66 is roughly 2500 miles long. I can be found just a few minutes from attraction #13, the big blue whale in my hometown of Catoosa, where I was born and raised. Growing up, I was the baby of three. It took me a long time to learn how to speak up and even longer to speak in public. I joined toastmasters to learn structure and form to give speeches and adopt good habits for organizing and preparing speeches. My journey to toastmasters can be directly linked to me as an 8th grader being made fun of by one of my peers for not being able to read.
I was insecure and self-conscious in junior high, and I absolutely hated being called on to read aloud in class. At some point, one of my teachers interpreted this to mean that I couldn’t read, which landed me in a special education class. An odious stigma I would spend years working to overcome.
When it came time for me to enroll in college and realized that speech was a required course, all that embarrassment and shame I felt from being labeled a “slow learner” came flooding back.
It took enrolling in speech three times before I got up the nerve to speak in front of the class. The first two times, I was so scared in the days leading up to my first speech, I dropped the course.
I eventually managed to pass but believe me, when I say, my speeches were not good. I struggled to find my voice, and once I found it, I didn’t have the self-confidence to use it.
All of that changed when I experienced, what was up to that point, the most significant loss of my life.
In 2014, my only sister passed away unexpectedly, and all I could think about was how much I still had to say to her and what I wanted others to know and remember about her. I took on the responsibility of writing her eulogy.
She left behind a son and two daughters and a classroom full of 3rd graders who called her Mrs. Sarten. The funeral was held in the gym at the school where she taught, and there wasn’t an empty seat.
When it was time, I didn’t think twice about getting up to speak. I wasn’t nervous or afraid. I walked to the front of the gym, looked up, and delivered the best speech of my life.
You see, I had come prepared. I knew what I needed to say and what I thought my sister would’ve wanted me to say, and I spent days leading up to it writing and rewriting until I felt the words were just right. So, by the time I got up to speak, I was ready. It was almost muscle memory.
Grief is a funny thing, and it hits everyone differently. It taught me that when you have something that you can’t live without saying and a purpose beyond yourself, it becomes much easier because it’s no longer a choice. Speaking that day wasn’t about me. It was about getting the message to the audience, and I was just the vehicle.
In the words of Winnie, the Pooh, “you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Since then, I’ve spoken in front of many large groups, served as an expert panelist for professional forums, and I delivered eulogies for both my mom in 2016 and my brother in 2019. I can safely say that it doesn’t get easier, but I do know that I’ve come a long way from being that 8th-grade girl in a remedial reading class.
Every roadblock and detour I encountered while navigating down my own Mother Road served as the building blocks that got me where I am today.