My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

How they celebrated when I graduated!

Celebrating my graduation!

Every fourteen-year-old walks around with two distinct thoughts about themselves.  First thought: “I am so amazing, I will accomplish great things and become famous someday. And, when I do become famous, everyone who has ever been mean to me will regret the way they’ve treated me.” Second thought:  “I am so lame and stupid and someday everyone is going to realize it.  I’ve faked them out so far, but I can’t keep it up forever.  I suspect some people already know, but they are just being nice.” This confusing sense-of-self was all I had, when I was forced to participate in a speech contest by my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Donald.

Sister Donald and her fellow “sisters” worked hard to provide new and stimulating experiences for us.  We were introduced to protestant congregations around town, taught exercises by a Marine sergeant, and carted off to entertaining performances.  The speech contest was the latest piece in the experience puzzle.  We didn’t have to write it, all we had to do was find an article with a certain number of words and memorize it.  I found a story on the Pope’s visit to New York – anything Catholic couldn’t hurt, right?

My family heard the speech, over and over the weekend of the contest.  Practice was going okay, except that I had trouble remembering my next line at the same spot in almost every trial run.  I wasn’t concerned about that though, my anxiety totally centered on being able to walk on the stage when the big moment arrived.  I couldn’t imagine myself doing that.

My mother stayed home with my three younger siblings on speech night (she’s a smart one), and my father and I headed off to the dreaded competition.   Speech contestants sat in the first few rows of the auditorium with their teachers, and families sat behind them.  My father found a seat in the shadows at the very back end of the room, against the wall.  Brave Sister Donald sat directly in front of the stage, clutching copies of our speeches.

One by one, fellow students zipped through their oratories and celebrated back in their seats.  Finally, my name was called.  Which version of myself would emerge tonight – the amazing future prodigy, or its lame counterpart?   I stood up and actually made it to the stage.  Once there, it didn’t feel so horrible, “By golly, I was getting through this – I could see the end in sight, and I couldn’t wait.” Fate had another idea, however, I became the first person that evening to stop dead in the middle of their speech.  It was the familiar spot I always struggled with during my home performances.  My fifteen famous minutes were beginning.

The “official” procedure was to lead participants off the stage when they reached a moment of impasse, and call them back up to try again later.  Brilliant!  Sitting in the audience, stewing and stressing, is the perfect fix for a memory lapse!  Well, I might not have known my next line, but I did know that I was not getting back on that stage!

I declined the invitation to step down, and creatively asked Sister D for the next line in my speech instead.   She was shocked by my “creativity,” but she tried one more time to get me off the stage.  I politely refused her second request, as well.  She looked at me and I looked right back at her, and after assessing my determination, she realized doing it my way would be the least embarrassing for all of us.

The only sound in that auditorium was the shuffling of those speeches as Sister Donald, red-faced and wide-eyed, searched through her pile.  When the shuffling stopped, it got even quieter as she scanned to find the exact line I needed to move on and complete my indoctrination into the world of public speaking.   Eternally grateful for her efforts, I finished my speech and got to do exactly what I wanted – warm my seat, without the threat of another trip to that stage.

So, let’s review the events.  I forgot my speech in front of a large audience, I defied the rules by staying on stage, and I disobeyed my teacher, a nun, who’s married to God!  Nothing good was going to come out of this, and I just hoped that the memory that could forget a speech, could forget the whole evening someday.  Then came the big surprise!

No, I didn’t win a trophy, but when it was over, my classmates gathered around me and praised my stubbornness!  Parents commended my refusal to get off the stage, and even Sister D was okay with everything and managed to make a joke about it.  Apparently drama is not only interesting, it’s exciting!  My dad emerged from the shadows, said a few positive things, and asked me why I was the only speaker who had a microphone?  I didn’t have a microphone, but he was sitting so far away, he confused the ribbon up the front of my jumper for a mike.

What a weird evening for an impressionable, insecure fourteen-year old!  Who knew you could receive accolades by doing something others perceived as a bit brave?  I merely chose between two evils.  Did I want to be reprimanded for not getting off the stage, or did I want to get up on that stage again later?  The correct choice was crystal clear to me.  Deep down, that inexperienced fourteen-year-old girl knew exactly which version of herself was true, but she was going to keep daydreaming anyway.  Do you know how many times she’s been on Oprah?

Category: Life-Story Writing Class 2 comments »

2 Responses to “My Fifteen Minutes of Fame”

  1. emilee

    Great post!!! :)

  2. sue

    Thank you, Emilee!


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