The calendar I have on the side of my blog embarrasses me. It is proof that for the entire month of May, I have only posted once. The reason for my absence would be automatically apparent to any highschool student: May means AP Exams. Two exams for me this year: Chem and European History. I sort of feel like an infant on WordPress — everyone else seems to have surpassed highschool at least. Nevertheless, I’m going to introduce my sure and uninterrupted presence on WordPress with a little reflection about AP European history, and hopefully you’ll still be able to relate.
Speaking aloud has never been one of my strengths. The cooperation of my lips and vocal cords have never produced a sound that I liked, a voice that I wanted to identify with. Sometimes the words come too fast, bumping into one another like cars in a line of traffic, or the words don’t come at all, abandoning me and forcing me to stammer, awkwardly.
Aside from multiple choice tests and a grueling five-page essay each week, AP Euro students are expected to exhibit some public speaking skills through seminar in small groups and, sometimes, short solo presentations. I awaited my turn to present with an apocalyptic sense of doom. Not with panic, though: When my task arrived, I pressed my lips together and absorbed the news quietly. I acknowledged my fate with pure acceptance.
This is because I have long accepted my struggle with speech as a flaw that was simply a part of me. Everyone knows that each person possesses a weakness–public speech was mine. There was nothing I could really do about it.
It was a one-minute summary of the French diplomat, Talleyrand. Clear voice, accuracy, and eye contact with the two dozen kids staring at you. I thought about those eyes, and about painful awkward silences, and half-hearted applause once the timer went to zero. These images were strong in my mind as I filled, erased, and re-filled index cards with a desperate scrawl. I recited my small speech countless times in front of the bathroom mirror, seeing my hesitance and self-doubt reflected before me. I memorized the acrobatics of tongue and teeth late into the night. Kept awake by what if I mess up? “Hello, I am Charles Maurice de Talleyrand…”
At the podium the next morning, after controlling my trembling and taking in a deep breath, I remember saying that first sentence perfectly and nothing else. The words flowed out so smoothly that I was shocked at myself when I finished exactly in 60 seconds and my teacher’s voice (“Good!”) carried from the back of the room. My face was locked in a grin as I returned to seat where my congratulatory friends received me.
The ultimate proof of the hypothesis I formed in those glowing moments came when I successfully and wittily presented my midterm project of seven minutes (“Elizabeth the First was born on September 7th, 1533 to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII…”), but I had already learned something that most people probably figured out in Kindergarten. I could be good at public speaking. I had to put in an unusually high amount of effort to do so, but it was possible. The nonexistence of my natural ability was washed away by waves and waves of practiced words, each attempt sounding stronger than the last.
In AP European history, we learn about the struggle of the crushed against the crushers; the struggle of dominance between faiths and between countries. But what I find to be the most profound struggle of all is the effort of individuals against their own weaknesses. Charles Talleyrand ignored the jeers of “lame devil” and negotiates as a brilliant diplomat. Churchill became a moving speaker despite his lisp. Angela Merkel earned a pHd in the one subject she struggled with in school*. This class has shown me how history contains the success of effort over one’s own weakness; and I have made that same victory part of my history, as well.
Thank you for reading!
Comment if you like or relate!
*The subject being physics. (All of the people I mentioned were a few people I researched specifically for seminar).