I felt like I was going to die. Not quite literally, but the feeling was pretty close. This all happened during my eighth grade year in middle school. At the end of every school year, the administration would hold an end of trimester ceremony giving out awards to students and staff alike. I was always riddled with a small amount of anxiety when it came to these kinds of things. Getting awards and being recognized is nice, but in front of the whole school is an entirely different story.
The ceremony started at the end of the day, which was advisory, and all the of the classes were filing into the hot and cramped gymnasium. It was the end of the year, making the season back to being summer. It made the whole gym feel like a heater was blasting hot air in on high. The gym was rectangular in shape with wooden bleachers at the back facing the stage at the front. There was a large amount of metal folding chairs near the stage, but left space for people to walk to the podium. There was also a walkway between the two large groups of chairs for access to the front. It had a student and teacher section as well as a parent section. Now that we were eighth graders, we were allowed to sit in the front of the gym on those metal folding chairs instead of the bleachers. It made us feel superior in one way or another.
“Look at us, the big scary eighth graders.” I said to my friend, Taneesha, as we looked out at the whole school assembled together. It gave us ample time to scope out the younger sixth and seventh graders; making a few jokes here and there. Finally, we took a seat towards the front row to the right. I fixed my eyes up on the massive projector screen. Soon it would be painted with words, pictures, or anything they decided to put on the slideshows and videos.
“Are you nervous?” Taneesha asked, nudging my arm slightly to pull my attention off of the projector screen.
“No, why?” I responded as I looked at her.
“You won’t stop bouncing your leg and you’ve been complaining about this all day,” she gave me a knowing look.
She laughed and shook her head at me. She could read me like a book; I was beyond nervous. Now that we were in our last year of this school, we were more eligible to win something. Once it was clear everyone was seated and ready to go, our principal walked to the front and stood behind a podium.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” she began, her voice booming from the speaker system, “I’m glad you’re all here for our trimester three awards ceremony.”
She said a few more things about how proud she was of everyone, gave a few names, and then announced the slideshow would begin. Those were always filled with funny pictures and music that basically everyone knew and sang along to. Afterwards, sports team coaches went up and talked about their seasons, the players, and, of course, how proud they were. Suddenly, I felt an elbow nudge my arm.
“Uh, Brooke? I think your parents are here.” Miranda spoke quietly as to not interrupt whoever was talking.
“What?!” I replied in a loud as I tried not to shout. My eyes went wide and I twisted frantically to look off in the parents section. There they were, waving and staring back at me. My heart lept into my throat. If they were here that must mean either two things: my sister had won something, or I had won something. I tried to lie to myself and say my sister was the one who would receive something, but she was only a sixth grader and had a low chance. I was terrified of standing up in front of a crowd. I could feel panic rising inside of me like a cauldron bubbling over. I knew that I probably didn’t have to do a speech or anything, but to have all those eyes on me made my skin crawl.
“Oh my god.” I covered my face with my hands and stared at the white concrete floor. Taneesha noticed me freaking out and leaned over.
“What’s wrong?” She questioned me with concern, her eyebrows pinching together.
“My parents.. They’re here.” My voice shook when it left my mouth. I didn’t know what to feel. I was excited and terribly scared.
“Dude, maybe you won something!” Taneesha excitedly grabbed my arm and shook me. I tried to smile as color rushed to my face. It was getting harder to breathe; I was so tense. I wished I was able to share her excitement. Suddenly, I realized who was walking up to the podium.
My art teacher.
Realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I was, and still am, really into art. Our school buys art of three eighth graders to hang in the hallways for everyone to see. She was going up there to call those three people. I glance back at my parents, eyes growing wide. My heart was banging violently against my ribs. She gave her spiel about what she was going to be announcing and such before she prepared to call the first name. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears thumping quickly.
“First up is Sydney with her marker design drawing,” she announced, the projector showing both his name, the picture of art, and the materials used to create it. I felt a little sense of relief when it wasn’t me. The entire gym erupted in cheers and the rhythmic sound of clapping. I clapped along with everyone else as I watched my classmate walk up, shake our art teacher's hand, and take her award. She walked over to the side where a teacher had motioned her to go. I watched as she looked down at the paper she used as a prompter. My stomach double knotted as the anticipation of what may be my name being the next word said.
“Next is Luke with his marker design drawing,” she looked up from the paper and look out to the crowd. The slide changed to his colorful drawing. Cheers and applause rang out again in the gym. Instead of feeling that same wave of relief, the feeling of anxiety intensified. Only one more name. Without warning, the slide went back to Sydney's, then shot forward to the slide after Luke’s.
It read my name.
My heart skipped multiple beats. I could barely hear the crowd’s confused gasps over my own heartbeat that was roaring in my ears like a storm’s gales screeching. I almost forgot to breathe. Was this happening? They had accidentally moved the slide forward before Luke finished shaking the teacher’s.
“Do I go now? What do I do? What-” I was talking as quietly as I could in my hushed voice to Taneesha. One of the teachers turned around and frowned at me.
“Just wait until she calls your name.” She spoke in a hard tone that made me feel even worse. I just shut my mouth and nodded quickly, not wanting to make her angry. Finally, Mrs. Miska looked to the paper and smiled.
“And finally, Brooke with her pencil and pen drawing.” My legs felt like my bones were replaced with jelly. I stood up and walked up to her up behind the podium. My face was turning red as I half walked half jogged to her, my eyes only fixed on my art teacher. The roar of the crowd was dizzying as it washed away my anxiety and left me feeling euphoric. I was in the spotlight. That thought itself made my heart flutter in my chest like a caged bird. I kept telling myself they were cheering for me and that I had nothing to be afraid of. I shook her hand weakly and, with a dazed grin, took my award and retreated to quickly follow the other two winners.
That moment of my life left a very large impression on me as a person. It solidified my desire to follow a career path of drawing or really art in general. I had never felt more proud in my life than in those few seconds. It was the most prominent time I can recall that I’ve ever felt so normal in my own skin in front of hundreds of people. My self esteem was at an all time high. I wish I could go back in time to the exact moment just to reexperience that rush of adrenaline; it was something extraordinarily special. Middle school was a pretty rough time in my life, and to end it on such a high note felt like a breath of fresh air. That ceremony has helped me get better at feeling comfortable with myself, as well as when it comes to being up in front a large group of people. It pushed me completely out of my comfort zone, which, at the time I hated, but nowadays I’m so thankful for it. Without winning that award, I do think I would have any control over my shyness or social anxiety.