Anyway, my duties involved hearing two high-school girls deliver two speeches each. There were supposed to be three contestants, but one dropped out at the last minute. I will say right now that I don’t blame that person. I would have dropped out too. In this event, contestants are required to stand on a bare stage and hold forth for about 10 minutes with no lectern and no notes and no props, before an audience of older people who have been instructed in advance not to provide any encouragement. To make it even more challenging, the speech had to address specific aspects of the U.S. Constitution in an original and engaging manner.
So, yes: this particular judge would have rather faced a firing squad than compete in this particular contest. During the speeches, I felt like the coward peering over the rim of the foxhole while the true heroes charged the machine-gun emplacement. I admired those young women and I was pretty generous in my scoring. There could only be one winner, of course, but based on what I saw, both contestants will have fine careers in whatever field they choose. That’s what courage gets you.
I read somewhere that a majority of Americans fear public speaking more than they fear death. I’ve occasionally felt that way. One of the most difficult classes I took in college was the speech class required of everyone. I didn’t mind the research and rehearsal, but I’d lose sleep for days before I had a speaking assignment. And the moments before the actual speech were absolutely terrifying. It’s irrational, I know, but I’ve never fully gotten over it.
I was one of four judges. At the end, the contest organizer introduced each of us and asked us to come forward to receive our certificates of appreciation. Normally I hate that kind of thing too, being the brief focus of attention, however briefly, in a room full of strangers. But I’d just witnessed acts of conspicuous bravery by those two young women. So when it was my turn to go forward, it didn’t bother me at all. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.