A Lesson Learned

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It was in the start of 8th grade and I remember the day clearly, as if it were yesterday. I was to compete in the America Our Country speech contest. I am not normally one to procrastinate things and save them until the absolute last second, but I totally let this homework assignment fly right over my head. On the night before it was to be performed I pulled out a crumpled up, old piece of paper that had been hidden in the bottom of my backpack for quite some time that read: America Our Country Speech Contest. The chilling words ran through me like a tapeworm and made my stomach drop. I felt sick. I had totally forgotten about the entire contest. Not only had I not memorized my speech yet, I had not even written the speech to memorize. I was shark bait. DOOMED. FOREVER. PERIOD. This was it, all those years of straight A’s were gone. I had let myself down and I hated it.

When I was brave enough to explain to my dad the stupid mistake I had made, he helped me progress and forget about my stupidity and begin on my speech. I tried until almost one ‘o’clock in the morning to write something decent enough to at least get me an A, or some scholarship money, but absolutely nothing was coming to mind. I studied books on America for ideas; I even read cheesy poems that bored me to death, but still nothing seemed to bud. Crumpled paper after crumpled paper filled the already overflowing garbage can, and I became a mess not knowing what to do. I shook my dad awake and explained to him my dilemma, how nothing was working and I would never have a good speech.

If you have seen my dad, you would not guess that he would be a great writer, but all those years of boring writing prompts in high school and college had prepared him for my prompt: America Our Country. He spoke as if he was an Italian artist painting a magnificent portrait; smooth strokes of beautiful words reconstructed the Mona Lisa. It was as if there was no more room on the paper, because by the time I had written four pages full of art, he was only half way through. I condensed his artwork and tweaked it to make it my own, all turning out to be just two and a half pages. My essay was complete. The worst part of the whole speech still awaited, memorization. This step was grievous and painful to do and made the time feel as if it was soaring by. Hour by hour by hour, my time ticked down as I reiterated the same speech word for word, until I could say it in my sleep, literally.

Sleep ran thin that night, and three hours is all the night lent me. When seven ‘o’ clock rolled around I could hardly keep my eyes open. After about twenty minutes we left for the contest and I had the same feeling in my stomach as the night before; the words flickered through my head like light switches being turned off and on. I was having a strenuous time trying to keep everything straight since only 7-8 hours before this, I was staring at a blemish-free paper, brain cramped. We arrived quickly and I picked the number 52, this told me that I would be very close to the end of the contest.

As they called number after number, my anxiety reached its highs and I felt like any moment I would hurl. I heard the judges announce “49…50…51…” I couldn’t imagine standing in front of everyone speaking and when the judges called my number, I thought I was dreaming and stumbled to the stand to speak. I introduced my name and the title of my speech. Things started smoothly and my nerves began to calm down. As I got to the third paragraph of my speech the picture in my mind faded and I was left wordless, unable to speak. I felt like a mute. My adrenaline began to rush and I scrambled for a tree branch to grasp hold of and pull me out of the raging rapids I was in. When 23 seconds had passed the thing I had hoped for came and I remembered the rest of my speech.

Those 23 seconds are what prevented me from a scholarship. My still lips and pale face will hold me captive for the rest of my life. When I sat in my car, the warm, wet raindrops that had not dared to fall finally poured down my face. My mascara ran black, ugly streaks and my cheeks were flushed red. When my mom got in the car we discussed some of the reasons I did not do as well as I would have hoped. We talked about preparation and the importance of not procrastinating.

I learned a great lesson from this experience and I will never forget it. I learned the true importance of being prepared, and the dangers of procrastination. Learning the hard way once, has prevented me from ever having that feeling again. Since then, I have turned my things in early and done assignments the first day I receive them, instead of waiting until the last possible moment. This experience was a true learning checkpoint in my life.





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