Even I can remember the nerve-wracking experience of public speaking at young age. From violin recitals as early as fourth grade to a simple oral project in the fifth, public speaking was my arch nemesis. In short, putting myself out there in front of people, subject to judgement, frightened me. The thought of being criticized was terrifying. It didn’t take long at all to figure out that something was wrong. Sure, I knew that everyone got nervous sometimes; however, the nervousness I experienced damaged my ability to perform.
So, I made a change. I signed up for my school debate team. This simple act forced me to use my voice in very public way. On the debate team, we learned about current events and issues relevant to society today. Not only did we discuss these issues, but we wrote various solutions and then debated these solutions in a public format. Suddenly, I saw a significant boost in my confidence, speaking skills, and writing skills. Only when I made the choice to speak up in my community -no matter how small the effort- I saw a real change.
The same way joining my school debate team and talking about real issues in my community was beneficial to me as a person, doing other things like running for student leadership really helped as well. In the year 2015, I ran for student council president. During the campaign, I was pushed to engage with the student body on a closer level. I conversed with many students that I had never talked to before and listened to many of the issues my peers were faced with. In the end, I lost the election, but choosing to speak up led me to not only grow closer to my peers, but also understand some of issues they faced day-to-day. Speaking up doesn’t necessarily mean using your voice, but rather, it means being a leader. Student leadership is an incredible place to start voicing your opinions and to start speaking up your friends who might not necessarily be able to speak for themselves.
But, student leadership isn’t the only way to put yourself out there. Garfield High School student Julia Olsen decided to voice her opinions on a comment she, and many of her peers, didn’t agree with. During a school event through Coaching Boys Into Men, a guest speaker, former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, said a few words that just didn’t sit right with the 16 year old. Lockette described a hypothetical situation in which a stranger disrespected your mother and how it would be ridiculous if your father refused to defend his wife, and how the you wouldn’t respect your father at all if the he ignored the situation.
Obviously, Julia was distraught after the statement. Instead of silently ignoring her feelings, Julia spoke up: “I have a question,” she declared, “Why can’t women stand up for themselves?” This simple statement triggered a cascade of cheers from the audience, as many of her peers had similar thoughts, but didn’t feel able to express themselves.
Julia Olsen didn’t make an earth shattering revelation regarding the theory of relativity, or bring the world closer to curing cancer, but she did make a change within her community, no matter how small. Julia made her peers feel empowered and most importantly, she made her peers feel heard. She wasn’t disrespectful, she wasn’t prideful, but she did illuminate a social issue in a constructive and beneficial way. While not all of us can run for office, we can all strive to be a little bit more like Julia Olsen, changing the world, one word at a time.