I found myself struggling with writer’s block. Draft after draft seemed unformed, poorly structured, long and just plain boring. (In retrospect, my speech was probably supposed to be 500 words! And, as my writing workshop peers well know, I do have trouble sticking to 500 words, let alone 750 and even 1000! )
I sought out the Principal, Miss McGibbon, who clearly fully occupied, sent me to see the Vice-Principal, Miss Smith, for help. Miss Smith, busy in her little office behind the windowed hole in the wall leading to the bookstore, shooed me away, saying I’d be fine! I remember waiting to ask my recently widowed Mum to read it, but she returned late from her office job suburbs away and looked so tired. Desperate, I gently interrupted her napping by the television, but she also shooed me away, saying I’d be fine.
It was the night of the speech. My mother and grandparents were in the audience. Malvern Town Hall was packed with students, parents and grandparents. I had sung ‘Ave Maria’ in Latin with the choir, danced with the corp de ballet, then reuniformed ready for the speeches, still feeling enormous trepidation about mine.
I remember standing at the microphone looking out at a sea of faces in the stalls and upstairs gallery. I can’t remember much about the contents of my speech, but can remember feeling tongue tied, that it seemed formless and to be going on and on, that I was rambling. The speech eventually came to an end, Trying to keep smiling, I returned to my chair on the stage. I vaguely remember hearing polite clapping, certainly not rousing applause!
I sought out my mother for reassurance – she gently conveyed that it could have been better, did go on a bit long, however she was still proud of me. Occasionally over the years I asked her to tell me ‘honestly, what my speech was like’-- she always responded in the same way!
It was a test of courage faced and largely failed. The only saving grace was that I didn’t have to be carried off from the fetal position on the floor I felt so close to finding myself in!
I went on to become a high school teacher for twenty years, and after a break as a social worker, a TAFE teacher for over a decade. I’ve attended numerous speech and graduation nights and have at times had to speak on the stage. Such occasions have always reminded me of the Malvern Town Hall fiasco, so I’ve always been well prepared. And, if ever a student has asked me for help in preparing for speech or graduation night I have never, ever shooed them away!