We parents have to start early, teaching our children all sorts of things. Potty training, “please” and “thank you,” sharing, no hitting. As they grow older, the lessons grow more complex. Time management. Delayed gratification. Community involvement. Dealing with disappointment.
We only have a few short years in which to ensure that our children are equipped with the tools for building successful lives. The task can be daunting if you stop to really think about it. We need all the help we can get.
That help comes from all over. There are grandparents, of course, full of hard-earned wisdom and old wives’ tales in equal measure. There are schools and Sunday schools, friends, neighbors, Drs. Phil and Oz.
My husband and I wanted to make sure our girls had an enduring appreciation of the arts, a love for reading, music and theater. We sort of dropped the ball when it came to sports. Ah well, you do what you can. Ultimately, every family has to find it’s own way.
One thing we didn’t have to teach our Rachel, now 17, was tenacity. The Optimist Club taught her that.
Each year, Optimist Clubs everywhere sponsor oratorical competitions. The rules are simple: Kids write a four- to five-minute speech on a designated topic. Then they deliver the speech before a panel of judges. There are four levels of competition: Club, Zone, Region and State. There are separate competitions for boys and girls. At the state level, the winner receives a $2,500 scholarship.
When she was in sixth grade, Rachel decided to give it a try. That year the topic was “My future is bright because ...” Rachel took it and ran with it.
She talked of how she had a bright future because she was lucky enough to have been born in this time and this place, to a mother who received prenatal care and into a family who saw the value in educating girls.
She talked of the “lost girls” of China and India, where female babies can be aborted or abandoned because of cultural preferences toward boys.
She spoke of civil war and famine in the Sudan and the plight of children there.
Then she quoted JFK: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” It was a powerful, well-reasoned and well-written speech.
Her science teacher, Kathy Mellette, heard her practicing and had her give the speech to her class. Every day. There are still kids at North Hall High School who can quote long passages from it.
When the class took a field trip to Cargill, Kathy had her present it to their guides. Rachel was invited back to give the speech at a Cargill employee’s gathering. Kathy also arranged for her to speak before the Hall County Board of Commissioners and at the school’s honors day assembly.
Kathy was doing one of the things she does best, creating opportunities for her students. For Rachel, it paid off exponentially. The then 11-year-old first-time speaker won at the club, zone and region levels. She was finally defeated in the State competition by a much older and experienced speaker.
Undeterred, she again advanced to the State level the following year when the topic was, “My biggest challenge is ...” Again, she just missed the brass ring.
Then came her years in the oratorical desert, four competitions in which she never made it past the region level.
Meanwhile, she grew and matured as a writer and speaker. She began competing with the high school debate team while still in middle school. She even revised some of the Optimist speeches to use in original oratory competitions and made a good showing with them.
Then came this year’s Optimist Oratorical Competition. It was her last year of eligibility. The topic was
“How my optimism helps me overcome obstacles.”
She was on a roll. She won the Club, Zone and Region contests. That just left the state event.
Since many oratory judges come from Toastmaster organizations, she asked the local Toastmasters group if she could present the speech to them for evaluation. They were both gracious and generous with their suggestions. It may well have been the tipping point.
Last Sunday in Macon, five girls competed for the $2,500 scholarship. Each speaker told of challenges, disappointments and victories won though optimism. The speeches were as remarkable and diverse as the young women at the podium.
My husband and I could only clasp hands and hold our breath as the moderator announced the 2012 state Oratorical winner: Rachel Glazer.
It was the culmination of seven years’ efforts. As with most life experiences, I suspect the journey will prove to have been even more valuable than the destination.
A few days after the competition, Rachel was at North Hall Middle School, giving her speech for Mellette’s classes and encouraging them to become involved in all aspects of public speaking and performance.
The torch has been passed.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.