Today it finally came out. He asked me point-blank. I couldn't avoid the question. So I answered his question with an nigh imperceptible nod. "Have you done speech before this class?" Nod. "Have you competed in speech?" Nod. My professor smiled in a self-satisfied sort of way. "You're a ringer. I can always spot them."
My spirits sank at this confession, I spent the rest of the class stewing in self-pity. I've tried desperately to keep my competitive forensics background under wraps. It's not on my resume. I haven't sought out the debate team. I've never mentioned it to my advisors. I stack expectations against me by approaching speeches, presentations, and group projects with much trepidation. I managed to get all the way to my junior year without a soul in the communication studies department knowing I did seven years of forensic competition in secondary school.
But I think my beginning public speaking teacher was on to me. She pinpointed that nebulous criticism I had always received on my NCFCA ballots: my tendency to "put on" an stereotyped persona, to become a caricature of myself when speaking. She held me to a standard higher than just being able to stand in front of the class and sound coherent. I got my first A- in that class, and I was furious. Each subsequent semester I would pull my evaluations out of my folder, and begin assembling my grade appeal. Eventually, though, I just threw it all out. I deserved the grade I got. It took my pride a few semesters to see that.
And this was exactly why I wanted to leave my speech and debate experience in high school. Let the truth be known: I am not a good public speaker. I lack the natural knack for dynamics and fluidity. I worked at speech and debate for several years before I made it to the podium for the first time. This is not to say that I have not honed a certain degree of skill in this area, but I still have much, much more to learn, with much more struggle and practice ahead. And an understanding of this reality offended my pride. I wanted low standards, I wanted little expected of me. I wanted to coast, I didn't want to be challenged.
But my secret's out. My advanced public speaking professor knows, and worse, our whole class is also privy to my handicap. And I'm petrified, of not being good enough, of getting a bad grade, of being challenged, and of being unable to rise to the challenge. And yet, how much more fearsome is it to be content with my own mediocre skill? Much worse, I think. And on that I will lean the rest of the semester.