Exposed and Vulnerable

Who ever said stuttering publicly on a big stage and in front of a big crowd was easy? I never said it, that’s for sure. As comfortable as I am with Pam, who happens to stutter, it is still daunting to get up in front of an audience and expose yourself. Stuttering or not, you want to look good and do well. That’s human nature.

Last night was the annual induction ceremony for our school’s National Technical Honor Society. As adviser, I orchestrate the ceremony, which includes symbolic candle lighting, a pledge that inductees recite, and calling each student individually to receive their awards.

I arranged a practice session an hour before the actual ceremony. Because the students were from different programs and all had different schedules, this would be our only practice. I had given everyone the script well before this date, so the kids knew who was to say what and when. The practice was to include walking up to the stage in pairs, “twisting on” the fake, battery-operated candles (can’t use real ones in a school), and arranging in some order on a small stage for the reciting of the pledge.

One kid was an hour late, so we had to practice without him, assigning another kid two parts. Late kid came as we were starting for real, so we went back to plan A.

During practice, my moment of truth came right away. As I was saying one line for the kids to repeat, I got stuck on “education”, which came out ” ed-ed-ed-uuuu-cation.” One kid towards front starting laughing, mimicked me, and laughingly said, “did you hear that?”

I stopped, and said ” Lets get this right out in the open. I stutter, and you’re going to hear some of that tonight, maybe a lot. I’m OK with it, and I would like you to be too, OK? Now, when you need to repeat after me, don’t repeat the stutter.” The kids laughed, as did some of the parents already there, watching practice. That was weird, but what can you do? I needed the kids there at a certain time, and their parents brought them. They were getting to see two shows. Some even took pictures during practice! The young man who had laughed was now very somber.

We finished, I reseated the kids and I talked to them again before we began officially. I very calmly suggested that the kids get all of their giggles out now, as one girl and same boy who had laughed earlier were giggling. The girl was just nervous. I reminded them all about my stuttering again, and to not let it throw them off.

So the time comes. I get up on stage, begin introductions, and proceed. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Stuttering definitely wanted in on this night. She was making her presence known. I remembered to breath and did what I needed to. I had a lot of whole word repetitions and some prolongations. And some good blocks! An especially tense moment was when “ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-college” took forever to come out. The sound of the blocking seemed to reverberate through the whole room over the microphone. That was the most vulnerable moment.

Then came time for the pledge. I gave the students their instructions, and added over the microphone, “Remember, don’t repeat any stuttering.” Nice, easy laughter followed. I stuttered several of the words. A senior student not being inducted was standing next to me, as she was a second year member. We read the lines together. It was awkward when I was stuttering a line, and she was done.

Without missing a beat, we reverted to her reading one line smoothly, the group recited, and I read the next, with stutters, and the group recited. We just kind of fell into that pattern of sharing the lines and it worked. What a great kid!

Then came the calling of the names. I had to read each students complete name, first, middle and last. Several were fine – several were stuttered on all three names. I felt a bit self-conscious, and quite exposed, but I was doing it. I paused long enough between names for parents to photograph their kids as they crossed and exited stage. It remained the kids night, as evidenced by all of the cameras flashing and the applause after each student was called and strode across the stage.

Before concluding and announcing that the next part of the ceremony would begin in a few minutes, I decided to add lib one extra thought. I have a favorite part from Nelson Madella’s inaugural speech that I know by heart. I shared this with the audience:

“As we liberate ourselves from our own fears, whatever those fears may be, our presence automatically liberates those around us.” I had liberated myself. Yes!

The induction ceremony then concluded and I had time to prepare to announce all of the scholarship winners towards the end of part 2 of the program.

The victory is in the doing. I had obsessed about how this night would go, for I really wanted to do well. I really did feel vulnerable and exposed. When I was speaking at the microphone, it was quiet. Everybody heard my words – and my stuttering. I put myself out there. I did my best. I did my job. I celebrated with kids who are beginning their adult lives. It was meaningful to be a part of that. We all learn from each other. I like to think that some people who didn’t know me before last night learned something about being true to self.