As I've noted a couple of times on this blog, I'm involved with the Georgia Academic Decathlon state competition.
(What's an academic decathlon, you ask? Well, just go here for more info. In a nutshell, it's a bunch of A, B, and C students, getting together to compete in 10 events/tests - speech, interview, essay, social science, economics, language/lit, music, art, math, and science. Condensed down to three words - Two day geekgasm.)
I was an academic decathlete in high school. I loved every aspect of the decathlon, save one. Twenty years ago (Twenty?!?) this month, I was sitting in a back hallway at the University of Charleston, waiting my turn to give my speech in front of three volunteer judges. My knees jiggled, my heart pounded, and I stared at a point on the floor, quietly repeating my speech to said spot. Over and over, for the ten minutes it took the decathlete before me to finish his speech and for the judges to score his performance, I sweated bullets. I hated the speech portion of the competition. Sit me in a room to take a test about The Sound and the Fury, or trigonometry, or macroeconomics? No problem. Put me in an auditorium with 90 other students competing in an oral relay on the history of Native Americans? Lived for it. Tell me to give a prepared speech in front of three complete strangers followed by an impromptu speech that I've had one minute to prepare? Um, where's the nearest exit?
Suddenly, it was my turn. In I walked, index cards clutched in my sweaty palms. I nervously stepped to the center of the room and listened to what the judges had to tell me about time limits and such. Then, I began speaking about the space program, the only topic my geek mind knew it could memorize with no issues since it was a topic I loved. A little under four minutes later, my speech was done. I was given a sheet of paper with three topics listed and I had one minute to prepare a speech based on one of those listed topics. There, at the top, was What are the main ways to prevent the contraction of AIDS. Expound on each. I was elated. That topic, I could do. Our sex ed class had just spent a week on STDs and here was a topic I could talk about for two minutes, with a beginning, a body with points to make, and a conclusion. And I could make it make sense without a lot of stalling and Ums.
I walked out of there confident, feeling good about what I had done. Never before, in my short 18 years, had I ever felt good about speaking in front of people. Those short six minutes gave me hope and the next day, I was rewarded with a gold medal for my efforts.
Six years ago, I was asked by a good friend to volunteer as an interview judge for Georgia's academic decathlon competition. In the intervening years, I also co-coached a team in the subject of astronomy and even volunteered as a testing proctor.
Last year, I was contacted by the state director who asked if I would mind taking on the job of speech coordinator for the 2010 competition. This meant I would train the volunteer speech judges, train the student volunteers, herd the students where they needed to go for their speeches (and get them there on time since they then had interviews immediately after), and make sure every student had three score sheets filled out. Or the state director would have my head.
The best part about this year's decathlon wasn't getting to run an entire event. It was watching those students, mirror images of a 20-year-younger me, sitting outside their classrooms, knees jiggling, lips moving, practicing their speeches to spots on the tile.
It brought back wonderful memories and made me remember that those high schoolers and I aren't so far removed from one another.
(Check back tomorrow for part 2 of my experience running an event for Georgia Academic Decathlon.)