Considering I have a secondary personality and tend to be rather overly-pensive and indecisive, it has taken me until now to reach the conclusion that I should write a blog about my experience as a guest speaker at the Providence Diocese Annual Human Life Guild Conference.
We woke up early Saturday morning to drive 45 minutes up north (to the other end of RI) to the host parish. I went with several other precandidates from ICA who were invited to be “usherettes” for the mass. Bishop Thomas Tobin celebrated the Mass with about 9 other priests. Being secondary once again, I did not get nervous at all until we had actually arrived to the parish and received the program of events for the day. On it, were the pictures of six speakers, the title of their talks, and a brief description of their occupations.
I read: “Rev. Bernard Healey, governmental liaison for the diocese…Dr. Susan Yoshihara PhD, President for Research….” and so on. Being the kind of person who enjoys visiting history museums, watching documentaries, and going to conferences, I began to get excited about hearing all these experienced people speak. Then, I saw that familiar face: A dark-haired girl wearing a plain white shirt, grinning from ear to ear. It was my school I.D. picture from 10th grade. Much has changed. “Gosh, I hope I still don’t look like that,” I thought to myself. This is when my secondary thoughts kicked in and I realized where I was and what I was about to do. Give a speech about something I’ve been googling information about for the past three weeks? I feel fairly qualified.
Despite these bouts of nervousness, I took my seat and tried to focus on the Mass. In the congregation there were about 30 seminarians and around several hundred people from the diocese. This commenced the 6th annual and largest yet, Human Life Guild Day. All of us representing Immaculate Conception Academy had the opportunity to greet the bishop. As well, we saw a few girls from Overbrook Academy and two lay consecrated women from the nearby Mater Ecclesiae College. It was comforting to see a few familiar faces and to have breakfast shortly after. One thing (of many) that I learned in my public speaking class was that you should always try to familiarize yourself with your audience before giving a speech to them. So, after getting my bagel and cream cheese, I rapidly scanned the room, looking for an available spot.
Decisions are difficult for me, so I prayed to the Holy Spirit and made my way to the first open place at a table of loquacious elderly people. They immediately took notice of my presence (being quite a few years their junior) and initiated me into the conversation while intermittently asking me where I had come from, what I was doing, etc. I was just beginning to enjoy getting to know them when the MC came to the stage and began to deliver a welcoming address. As I turned my attention towards the stage, I noticed that the table between my own and the stage had a sign on it that read: “Guest Speakers: Rev. Michael A. Sisko, Rev. Robert H. Forcier, Dr. Sheila Carey Kuzmic, Teresa Bonopartis, Dr. Susan Yoshihara, (and last, but of course not least) Margaret Antonio.”
I politely turned around and whispered to my new-found friends that I was going to be leaving and then I made my way as casually as possible to the front table. By then the welcoming address was over, and everyone at the table introduced themselves to me. Several immediately recognized me as being an “Immaculate Conception Academy student” because of the way I dressed and spoke (I suppose). One lady said that she sees several of us come to teach CCD at her parish and is always impressed with our external presentation and our joy in teaching.
The entire day was not nearly as daunting or nerve-racking as my pessimistic imagination had made it out to be. It was enjoyable and relaxing. I met many new people, learned from experienced views about life issues, had a great lunch, and inthe end, I was able to share my great passion for life. Eventually, the time had come for me to speak. As I walked up the stage, I tried to remember all the speaking tips I had received from my rehearsals. When I reached my third point I remembered that signal words and motions are very effective in keeping the audience’s attention. I quickly acted on this recollection and said, “Thirdly…” while attempting to put up three fingers for emphasis. However, I forgot that my last two fingers were taped together from jamming my finger in sports. Between my own momentary confusion and the audience’s laughter my tension eased and the talk continued to the end with both emphasis and familiarity.
When I walked off the stage, I did not feel overwhelmingly happy that it was over, but instead glad that I was able to share something that I cared about and that I knew everyone there cared about as well.