I have judged senior presentations now for several years for the Inchelium High School. Tonight will be no different. I’ve also mentored a few students along the way. Tonight will be no different.
One of the most effective tools I offer to students I mentor is an inside look from the judges point of view. It’s first person. It’s valuable to the student I work with because I can share with them what the judges are looking for.
I suggest wording and direction for a clear introduction and conclusion that has the judges nodding as they mark high points. I stress free points for dress, eye contact and vocal control. Do I judge then the students I mentor? No. someone steps in for that. I step away, watch and see if the student takes my direction or turns down a different path.
But can I really step away? No. Not really. There will always be a connection.
The night before the presentations, Nathan found last minute changes and we worked on them. Whew! They were important errors on my part. Editing is not always easy for me because my brain reads, even out loud, how the words or grammar should be, not how they appear on the page.
It’s now 5:30 PM. Nathan’s turn. We’ve already judged 4 students and took a break to discuss scores––pass or fail. The principal sits in my seat. I take a chair behind him with the audience.
My nerves twitch as I sit and watch, mouth closed and hands folded. The principal turns to me and asks, “I don’t know who’s more nervous, you or him.” I smile. In my head it might be a tie. I always ask myself if the student I mentored will remember what we’ve talked about and learned all year long, or the last few months, depending how long I’ve worked with that student.
I feel like a mother hen protecting my baby from predators, who happen to be the judges.
Do parents think I’m the predator when I’m in the judge’s chair ready to vote pass for fail concerning their baby’s hard work? The young boy or girl they have nurtured and molded for the past 17 or 18 years? These almost adult individuals? Did I think that way when my boys were giving their presentations?
I have never really thought about it until now, and I have had three sons run through the system. I was nervous then, as I am nervous today. For all the student’s really because this is a major stepping stone in their lives and I want them to succeed. To go on and follow their dreams.
I’ve seen young people over the years who are confident with themselves, until they have a room full of adults and other students with their eyes piercing through them like a medal piercing bullet. In fact, some student looked like they would flop over and die of fear. But they gather their strength, take a deep breath and begin to let the words roll out of their mouths like a soft current. Their shoulders relax.
They start to concentrate on their presentation and not the listeners in the audience. They begin to make eye contact with the judges, see us smiling at them and giving them the thumbs up through confident expressions.
So tonight, young men and women begin their journey in life as they really get to know who they are and what they’re made of by facing their fears and proving to themselves they can indeed succeed.
Presentations are finished, all but two young men who will present next week. They did not fail, just were not prepared.
It’s always a great feeling when I see young people accomplish their goals in a way that shows their maturity. That’s what happened tonight.
Nerves were pushed aside, for the most part. Hair was fiddled with, deep breaths were taken in, and giggles filled with anxious energy was cast over the audience. But the Inchelium High School students spoke with authority, shared their newfound talents and experiences that will help shape their character.
Each and every student passed their grueling 8-10 minute presentation. Sighs of relief could be heard as they passed the judges table. Pride filled the library like a late spring breeze fills the land after a frigid winter. Grandparents lifted their chins. Parents beamed as they nodded to their child.
Every year I am blessed to be a part of this experience. And each year I not only teach, but am taught. I coach and in returned am blessed. I feel humbled.
Every year a child turns a corner into adulthood.
~ Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries. – James Michener