Sunday, August 24, 2008

Courage To Conquer

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the 77th Annual Convention for Toastmaster’s International. In being there, I partook in the vision of the originator of Toastmasters, Ralph C. Smedley. In 1924, he was the Director of Education for the Young Men’s Christian Association, the YMCA. He saw that the young men at Santa Ana, California needed training in public speaking.

The vision that Mr. Smedley had for those men 84 years ago in Santa Ana is now being realized by almost 235,000 members, men and women, from across the world. The vision as written today is, Toastmasters International empowers people to achieve their full potential and realize their dreams. Through our member clubs, people throughout the world can improve their communication and leadership skills, and find the courage to change.”

The winner for this year’s World Championship was La Shunda Rundles. She gave a stirring and sassy account of her battle with Lupus with the help of her Mother’s firmness who taught her to speak through her fears.

Katherine Morrison, my favorite International Speech Contestant,spoke of overcoming the bullying that she encountered in school. Through the belief and encouragement of a teacher,she found she had the choice of what to believe about herself. She overcame her self doubts to earn a PhD in Public Health from the University of South Carolina. She placed 3rd out of the 10 contestants. Her stage presence exuded strength especially when she strutted off the stage with her doctoral hood draped over her shoulders.

Pamela Wallin, Canadian journalist, former Consul General in New York city, an Officer of the Order of Canada, received the Golden Gavel Award this year. This is given to non-Toastmasters who have achieved excellence in communication. She spoke eloquently of the impact of others on her life beginning with growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada which taught her the valuable lessons of community and civility.

I learned that people are not only conquering their fear of public speaking but other fears as well. The president of Toastmaster’s, Jana Barnhill, gave an inspiring speech of her victory over her fear of heights. She was in a small plane when it was caught into a storm at night. It tossed them about for 2 hours before they crash landed. The finale of her speech was a video of her skydiving. The theme she chose for Toastmasters in the coming year is “The Courage to Conquer”.

Another woman next to me at the dinner table told me of her own battle with the fear of heights. Through will and determination, she is attempting to become a 46er. These are people that climb the 46 Adirondack Mountains in the New York state. She has climbed three of them so far.

“Didn’t you panic?” I asked her. “Oh, yes. They had to drag and push me across this last precipice. I only had 100 feet to go to get to the summit. Then when we got there I refused to go back down.” I knew she had to get down somehow,..she told me that there happened to be another route down that particular mountain, a very steep road. They all had pretty achy feet after that but she did it with the help of her friends.

I volunteered to assist people off the stage for the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is where distinguished Toastmasters and Districts are recognized; it is like the Academy Awards for Toastmasters. I watched as a blind woman, then a woman with leg braces walked across the stage. No doubt there were countless others whose handicaps were not obvious to me. Okay, the blind are still blind and the lame are still lame but now they have confidence. The look on their faces told me that they achieved their dream. They have changed.

What about me? I gave this speech after less than a week’s preparation. It usually takes me four because. I have been too afraid to make a mistake or fall from the mountain. I thank God for Toastmasters because with their help and with His help, I am beginning to believe in the vision too. I see a competent, confident and courageous person climbing a summit today.

I want to add to this, a thank you to my blogpals for their interest in my life. You have helped me to believe in myself.

Thank you.