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Siya Lakireddy

Grade: 8

Birchwood School

Instructor: Maysan Haydar

The Speech That Changed My Life

Personal Essay/Memoir

The Speech That Changed My Life

Sweat built up on my forehead as I grabbed the paper from my locker. Why had I agreed to this? I could've said no. I could have done anything to avoid this moment, but now it was time. I took the sloppily folded paper out of my pocket and unfolded it, flattening the uneven creases, hands trembling. This paper was my worst nightmare, something that seemed impossible.

It was too late, and there was no going back. I ran to the office where the school secretary, Miss Grover, greeted me along with Dr. Rogers, our principal. I shifted my glance to Miss Adams, my speech therapist, who stood waiting for me. I clutched the microphone that she handed me and scanned the room for anyone that was going to make fun of me. Everyone was going to make fun of me. Why did I ever agree to this?

This whole quandary began last week with Miss Adams.

"Hello, Sita," she had greeted me with excitement. I knew that something interesting was going to happen because her blue eyes eagerly widened.

"Hello," I mumbled back.

"Let's get started," she chirped, opening her lesson plan binder. "I have written a speech for you to deliver on the school announcements next week. Are you comfortable with giving a speech?"

"W-what k-kind of s-peech?" I asked, stuttering in between. Since I was three, I have always stuttered. Although I was able to understand what I was saying, nobody else ever understood me very well. Everything I said aloud came out choppy, in fragmented phrases, though the thoughts in my head flowed smoothly.

"Sita," said Miss Adams, "let's use the paper we work with every morning and try saying that again."

I silently groaned. That paper seemed useless to me. She handed me the same laminated sheet with the black line curved into the shape of a hill. Every time I stuttered, I had to use that paper, tracing along the curve with my finger as I repeated myself. My sentence still came out a little broken, but it was clear enough for her to understand. I never knew how the paper helped me, even now I still don't know, but Miss Adams claimed that it helped others understand me.

I slipped into my imagination as she prattled on about the speech. This wasn't even worth considering. It was impossible for someone like me to do the speech. I started to think about my day, but I couldn't finish my thoughts because Miss Adams called my name insistently.

"So, what do you think?" she asked eagerly.

"Think about what?"

"The speech," she replied, "will you do it?"

What was I supposed to say? Was she going to get mad at me if I said no? What would my family say? What would everyone say?

"Umm…" I said. The inner conflict continued in my head. At first, I thought it wasn't worth considering, but I hadn't thought about anybody else's reactions. My gut told me to be brave and do it, but at the same time, this wasn't the task for me.

"So do you want to do it or not?" she asked. "It's totally up to you, but I think it is a good idea if you do."

I didn't know what to say. I just sat there until she told me what to do.

"Yes?" she asked with excitement.

"Mhm," I mumbled.

"I think that's a yes!" she exclaimed.

I wished that I could rewrite the moment in my life, but that was the truth. I mentally scolded myself for agreeing to do the speech. Why didn't I say anything? Now, I'm put in a miserable situation where everyone will make fun of me.

Even the recess and lunch aide, Mrs. Peters, questioned my abilities. She proved it one day when I was silently skimming through the speech for the first time, right after I received it. I sloppily folded the speech and placed it in my coat pocket after I noticed a tall red-haired woman in front of me.

What are you doing, Sita?" she asked.

"It's j-just a paper," I stammered.

"Yeah, I know. What's on the paper?"

"It's some sort of speech," I mumbled.

"Like a script for a speech?" she asked.

I nodded.

"You are giving a speech?" she asked, taken aback. She seemed somewhat shocked.

"Yes," I said.

"Well, good luck," she said and left, an expression of astonishment growing on her face. At first, I couldn't see why, but I realized it a few minutes later. She knew I wasn't able to speak coherently. Maybe she was right. I knew that this was a mistake.

At home, I showed my family the speech.

"That's exciting!" exclaimed my dad.

"Would you like to try saying it?" asked my mom.

I placed my finger on a word and moved it as I spoke.

"St-tut-tering," I read, "Th-ther-re a-ar-re m-many p-people tha-at…"

I paused and took a deep breath. There was no way that I could do this. I even had a hard time reading it in front of my family.

"Good job," said my twin sister.

"Let's try again," said my mom.

I tried again, stammering throughout the first paragraph. I knew I couldn't do this. I choked a sob.

"It's okay," said my dad, "You can try again."

"No," I cried, "It's not possible."

I wiped the tear that was trickling down my cheek. I ran to my room and shut the door. How was I supposed to give a speech? At least my family believed in me. Now, I was supposed to repeat those same words. Even though my words sounded like gibberish, there was no option for me to just quit. I had to give the speech.

Coming back to the present, I clutched the microphone with my hands and started.

"St-tut-tering," I managed to say. I glanced at Miss Adams and the office staff, waiting for approval. They all smiled.

"Continue," whispered Miss Adams.

Within a few seconds, I finished the first paragraph of the speech. I had to repeat a few sentences and lines along the way, but at least I managed to utter an entire paragraph. I took a deep breath. This isn't so bad. I decided to continue with the speech. Gradually, my entire focus shifted to my message and away from the multitude that I was certain stood ready to judge. Reciting this speech carefully was my priority. Stammering and gaps comprised my first sentence of the second paragraph, forcing me to repeat it, but by frequently taking deep breaths and slowing down, I managed to complete another paragraph. Finally, I was advancing to the third and final paragraph of the speech. I sighed with relief as my shoulders relaxed. My eyes, which were once glued to the speech, glanced toward the ceiling and back to the center of the room, where I caught a glimpse of Miss Adams, Dr. Rogers, and Miss Grover. Startled, I almost flinched and my eyes widened with shock. They had been listening to me the entire time. What were they going to say about me?

My hands trembled with trepidation. How was I able to get this far in the speech? Earlier, I had been able to recite without any worries, but now, the only thought in my head was: What would other people think of me? I shifted my glance to Miss Adams. Her blue eyes were on me. She was expecting a lot from me. But what if it wasn't about me? What harm would happen if they thought badly about me? If they said something about me, would I let it destroy me? This was the problem! All these years, I had hid inside my own cave with the worry that they would say something bad about me. I took what they said too seriously, when it was really just a comment, not something that would physically destroy me.

After a brief respite from the speech, I continued immediately. Every single word that I said in the final paragraph was most likely a stutter, but this speech represented everyone that stuttered and lost their confidence because they were not used to speaking and were always worried about others' judgment. Finally, I concluded my speech with the most powerful words: Thank you. When I thanked everyone, I not only thanked them for listening to me, but also for helping me gain confidence in giving this speech. And even though they would never know how much this speech helped me, they still deserved a sincere expression of gratitude.

Because the speech had been over the school intercom, I did not hear plaudits from a large audience, but I could hear the slow claps of Miss Grover, Dr. Rogers, and Miss Adams, who had pushed me to give the speech. She had believed in me, along with my parents, and my sister, who all supported me. Because of them, I can now speak clearly and confidently without any stutters to stop me. This speech was just the beginning of my growth in self-confidence. This was the speech that changed my life.