I debated for some time about whether I should share this here. A speech is not the sort of writing thing I usually do and nothing I’ve blogged about in the past.
But I did have to write what I said to the audience as the faculty speaker for graduation last week. And I worked on it longer than I’ve ever worked on a short piece before. Also, the end result felt as good as or maybe better than much of my other work.
So here it is, dear readers. I began thinking about what I wanted to say as soon as the graduation committee selected me last March. I googled how to craft a speech like this. I watched JK Rowling’s graduation speech and Neil Gaiman’s. I thought on it for weeks, especially on my evening runs. I reached out to Alan Tiger, my good and capable friend who teaches public speaking. We drank coffee and beer together at Tower’s Cafe while he gently tore apart my first draft.
I then panicked and coudn’t touch it to revise for over a week. After regaining my senses, I started back to work on it, changing what he said to change and elaborating on what he said needed more while working to stay true to what I most wanted to say. I printed it in sections with 16 point font and bold transitions, so I could couldn’t get lost–I hoped.
Then, I took Alan’s advice and rehearsed the thing in my head or out loud every day at least twice a day for over two weeks. While my teenaged son slept next to me in the airport on our way to his new college home, I rehearsed. While my cats watched me in the my office, I rehearsed. While I drove to work, I rehearsed the parts I could remember.
And all the while, I built up my stage stamina. Every time I felt the nerves, I reframed them as excitement like Alan had advised me. I pretended I was at the podium when I was on the eliptical at the YMCA. I pounded the pavement on my runs, picturing myself at ease in front of the crowd. And I remembered all the times I’ve hit a wrong note in band concerts and let that remind me that I have not died–that the audience often never knows. My life has gone on even when I’ve momentarily stumbled. (Have I mentioned before how much my band has given me? I hope so.)
As the day approached, I stared at the map so I could get a feel for where I’d be. I went to the T-Dome early in the day so I could feel the place out. There I saw the giant monitors that would have my image and reassured myself that I would not have to look at them while facing the crowd.
When the time came, I was more than ready. In the end, I was able to tell the graduates and others what working for Bates has meant to me over the years and the things I wished for them as they left our school.
The writing, the revising, the rehearsing, and walking up to that podium were all stretches for me. Elastigirl-like stretches. I’m so glad I did them and that I can put this up for you now.