Exposure and practice to the art of public speaking has the power to deepen and strengthen our connection to self, our education, and our community.
Growing up, I devoted myself to school because it was the one thing in my life whose outcome I knew I could control.
If I did my homework, I got good grades.
If I tested well, I got good grades.
If I met my deadlines, I got good grades.
If I completed my reading log (even if sometimes I skipped reading) I got good grades.
Good grades meant a great report card and that meant that I could eventually go do big things in the world.
My teachers had no complaints by the time parent teacher conferences came, except that they would love it if I “spoke up more and participated in group discussions”. And each time I would tell them that I would work on it, but truthfully, it was the #1 piece of feedback I received for years to come.
I’ll be honest in saying that for this introvert, it was difficult to participate in class. I was afraid of judgment, but more importantly, I needed time to process my thoughts and in some ways, protect my inner voice.
As a first generation, oldest daughter of an immigrant single mother, being the shy, quiet, & reserved Yvonne was simply more comfortable than being in the spotlight. Besides, it had always gotten me the results I “needed”: good grades. And that’s all I needed to help pave the way for my siblings and I to “be successful”.
There were moments I got glimpses of my power as a speaker as the MC for my elementary school graduation & cultural events, but the excitement of those moments were never fully integrated in the classroom.
When I started high school at Metropolitan Arts & Tech (one of the first Envision Education Bay Area schools) I had no idea that my engagement with my education would completely transform. Our curriculum focused a lot on internalizing our learnings through deep reflection, critical thinking, creativity, and talking about it. Every semester we hosted ‘exhibitions’ as a way to share our work with our peers, family, and friends. We were required to present a collection of our work to showcase that we had achieved the learning outcomes of projects across subjects, which made me incredibly uncomfortable and way too nervous. I remember thinking “Why are they making us do all of this extra stuff? Can I just take a test?”
We’d spend hours preparing our talking points, our presentation boards, and even our outfits. Each time, it got easier and I reconnected with my love for public speaking. I say reconnected because I already had it in me. I was just not always in environments that pushed me to step up. The Yvonne that I knew myself to be, could also now fully exist in the classroom. Public speaking opened the door for me to be more authentically myself. To lean into a perceived contradiction where I had a hard time participating in class discussions, but could completely dominate a speech because I had been granted the time to practice and cultivate my art.
And I didn’t do it alone. I had an entire community in my teachers and my classmates. We were all in it together and all bonded over having to deliver presentations so frequently. I grew closer to my classmates because we’d spend hours giving each other feedback or exchanging ideas for how we’d present. We could collectively share our nerves and also work through them to deliver.
No matter who we were or where we came from, when we showed up to the classroom we were given the platform to share our ideas & deeply engage in our education from the lens of our lived experiences.
Presenting in the classroom allowed me to understand myself at a much deeper level, feel empowered by my education, and learn to create community through the art of public speaking.
My hope is that we can all see the power of public speaking beyond simply “taking the stage”, but also recognize its power in helping us reconnect with our most authentic selves, our education, and the collective power of doing things in community with others.