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“I never want to raise my hand in school again.”
At least that is what I initially thought after being laughed at by my entire sixth grade science class. Sporting a faded Bob Dylan t-shirt, the middle school teacher asked if anyone could tell him what part of the cell functions like a post office. An eager boy raised his hand. After a nod of acknowledgement from the teacher, the young scholar responded with, “the golgi APP-APP-APP-APPer-APParatus,” causing the whole class to look up from writing, locate the student speaking, and exuberantly cackle through the final five minutes of class.
That small, stuttering boy was me, and after that incident, I was sure that I would never be able to talk before large groups, confidently lead peers in a group project, or even attempt to refute a friend’s foolish claim regarding last night’s football game. In that moment, I thought that stuttering would always get the best of me. It was not until midway through the seventh grade that I realized that stuttering was no bigger obstacle in life than running out of printer ink the night before an essay is due or striking out in a baseball game.
Wearing a pristine ivory white shirt, a girl who I had never conversed with stood timidly behind the tattered wooden podium at the front of the classroom. She was ready to begin her speech entirely from memory. After dubiously discussing the Mayans’ contributions to mathematics, the girl suddenly froze as the memorized lines despairingly escaped her. The abruptness caused everyone in the class to chuckle. However, instead of releasing a fountain of tears, the girl joined the class in the laughter. Witnessing that student botch her speech, yet finish it with a smile made me realize that struggling with public speaking is not uncommon and that I should not allow my stutter to be a burden. I was ready to defeat it.
I started out by researching techniques to overcome stuttering and incorporating those strategies into my conversations. I did my best to take deep breaths in between sentences, talk slower, and think about what I wanted to say before speaking. I was not making much progress until I discovered what became a major catalyst for how I would prevail over my stutter; I learned that Johnny Damon, one of my favorite athletes, also had a stutter. Watching him answer the grilling questions of the New York media in front of a packed press room with ease inspired me to not become too discouraged and to keep working to improve, knowing that the results will come. The big assessment for how much I improved came when I told my history teacher that I wanted to give a speech since she had exempted me from past public speaking assignments. At this point, I felt comfortable in my daily interactions with friends and with participating in class activities, but I knew that speaking in front of an audience was still my biggest weakness.
When it was time to give the speech, I expected to feel nervous and a tightness in my chest, but instead when I walked up to that same tattered wooden podium, I felt a surprising sense of confidence. I took a deep breath, introduced my name, and proceeded to deliver a stutter-free speech about Mesoamerica. Since I have stopped allowing my stutter to limit what I can achieve, I have become vice president of a school club. At Guacamole Club meetings, I am responsible for speaking to a group of thirty members.Looking back, I am grateful for my stutter. It has taught me to treat obstacles as an opportunity to become more confident. I can imagine myself becoming a leader in college, with public speaking being my most admirable quality. I look forward to all the challenges I will encounter, and I will definitely never stop raising my hand
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