My favorite 16 year old brunette traded her basketball shoes for high heels this winter when she became a member of the 2016 Haymaker Speech Team. Her long-time dream of attending an Ivy League college combined with the intellectual nature that she inherited from her mildly nerdy parents led her to the path of public speaking. She began the season as a novice participator and ended it as a varsity competitor at the Nebraska Class B State Meet on Wednesday.
Ashley Grace qualified for state in the Extemporaneous Speaking category. An incredibly unique event, Extemporaneous Speaking involves drawing a topic from a large pool of both global and domestic current events to create a 5-7 minute speech citing specific news resources to support the oratory content. Each competitor has 1 hour to write and prepare the speech before presenting it to a judge/judges. Every meet involves the entrants competing in 2-3 rounds (2 preliminary, 1 final) drawing different topics for each round.
I have to admit that I nudged my favorite brunette toward this topic because I recognized the invaluable life skills that it would help her to develop. Learning to intelligently convey your thoughts in an effective, organized, and interesting manner ranks at the top of Anne’s list of life skills. Being able to do it publically in front of a judge, under the pressure of time constraints, is nothing short of awesome. I watched my daughter evolve from a nervous and unconfident competitor to a poised, thought provoking, and eloquent speaker over the span of four months.
While the season far surpassed any expectation that I had as a parent, it ended in a sea of frustration for my daughter. After winning the first round at the state meet, she delivered what I believed to be the best speech of her career in the 2nd round. Her seven minute oratory on necessary changes within the Republican Party leadership in order to rein in fringe candidates was clever, organized, and beautifully presented. Unfortunately, the judge did not agree with her interpretation of the topic question and, as a result, scored her so harshly that she fell short of qualifying for finals.
The experience provided an interesting lesson in perspective…
One could argue that a differing personal interpretation of an open ended question should not result in such a punitive score reduction. This action ultimately denied her an opportunity to compete in the finals, but I think that perhaps the lesson is much larger than placing at the Nebraska State Speech meet. The lesson did not appear in the lost medal; rather, it originated in the season long acquisition of a valuable public speaking skill and culminated in the realization that the same words on a paper can mean different things to different people.
It is hard for many of us to recognize that perspective colors interpretation; but that is a reality. Neither the judge nor my daughter were wrong on Wednesday, they simply interpreted words differently as a result of having unique perspectives. I cannot begin to count the times in my ag-vocating journey where this has occurred. Perhaps one of my most valuable acquired life skills came from the realization that the blending of eclectic perspectives leads to learning and personal growth. The first step in this process is accepting that words and views can be meaningfully interpreted from multiple angles.
I am incredibly proud of Ashley Grace – the poise that she displayed this week as well as the hard work that went into her public speaking transformation warms my heart. While it may take a few days for her to let go of the disappointment of the lost medal, I am confident that she will ultimately realize that that the true prize exists in a broadened perspective and the maturity that comes from being able to look at the world from a variety of angles.
My favorite farmer fervently wishes that the leaders of our National Republican Party could have listened to the words of her speech – perhaps then our country would be able to climb out of its current political quagmire 😉