I know I’ve said it before, but I will say it again. Today’s youth are amazing. Take our three state speech competitors from PAS. Jori, Will, and Brooklyn are a fraction of Minnesota’s talented speakers heading to State Speech this weekend. Their journey to this point has been years in the making. As their past speech coach and huge fan, I am so proud of their hard work and dedication to their craft. They have overcome obstacles we never imagined and succeeded in ways we adults can, and should, learn from.
Let me explain. Competitive forensics requires youth to stand up in front of a judge (or 3 or 5 depending on the level of competition) to be, well, judged. Speak more clearly. Don’t mumble. Check pronunciation. Stop fidgeting. Don’t sway. Make eye contact. Connect with your narrator. Where’s your emotion? Too much emotion. Too loud. Too soft. Where are your facts? I don’t understand your point. Why is this important? Facial expressions, please.
These youth subject themselves to this confusing array of commentary three or four times every single tournament during a speech season. For this reason alone, I respect each and every competitor regardless of how they place. I also learn from them. Perseverance. Grace. Poise. Ability to listen to feedback and learn. Willingness to be critiqued time and time again. How many of us would flat out quit what we were doing if we were criticized for every little thing we did or didn’t do? How many of us would lose our passion, fold up shop, and move on?
Yet, these young speakers have learned to analyze feedback. They have learned to find fact to support their positions. Successful speechies have learned to research, to understand intent, and to marry their opinions with supporting data, and to convey all that in a ten minute presentation. They don’t eschew history, but build on it, taking into account the culture of the times. They thoughtfully weigh their words and actions (yes, they are critiqued on how well they gesture) and use them to show others the value in the words they share. They are asked to look beneath the surface message and make us consider the greater impact of the words they read.
In our current political, social, and cultural climate, we could all put into place the lessons our young competitors have learned through their years on the speech team. We can all take the time to research, listen, and engage in meaningful dialogue about things that are important to those around us.
To that end, Meinders Community Library has mindfully purchased nonfiction books that can aid in researching some of the critical conversations that are currently taking place between families, friends, communities, organizations, and governments. These books aim to inform, as well as present different perspectives.
I am currently reading Think Again by Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and top-rated professor. If Jori had one more year in speech, I’d recommend she check him out. She would love his message to argue like you’re right, but listen like you are wrong. As a mother and a librarian, I love his passion for creating lifelong-learners through the art of rethinking all we “think” we know. I can hear Brooklyn and Will reading aloud–beautifully, fluently, and passionately–from some of the books we have recently added to our collection on poverty, immigration, or the justice system.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I will not have the privilege of listening to them. Will, Jori, and Brooklyn will not have the audience they deserve. They will not have their teammates, families, and other competitors cheering them on in real-time. For this reason, they will shine. Because they know that it is the skills they have learned that matter. Not the accolades of performing in front of others.
I firmly support (free) speech and the absolute necessity of opening our hearts to really hear what others have to say. Good luck, PAS Speechies. You amaze me!
keep reading, keep learning, and keep thinking~ jody