Many of the speeches fell into two categories: How My Awesome Optimism Makes Me Awesome; and Here's A Bad Thing That Happened To Someone I Know But I'm Still Alive. Bless them, many of these kids had sad or intense stories to tell about childhood illness or mishap, someone in their family with cancer, or generally scary stuff. One girl had been a bone marrow donor for both of her brothers, who suffered from an x-linked disease.
There was a lot of ten year-old philosophizing and quoting of great minds. Touchstones were Lance Armstrong, Steve Jobs, and Tim Tebow, particularly his "dream destroying" loss to Ol' Miss in 2008 and his pluck and determination in its aftermath. Also Gandhi was mentioned. And, improbably, Cecil B. DeMille.
One child began an illustrative example with, "Take Mother Theresa." (Please!)
I would not kid you about that. This moment had me leaping to compose a note to myself in my iphone. So did the part where the kid said, "And then I thought about night and day, and how truly different they are from each other." I was just eating all of this up, really.
Some children seemed a bit confused as to what optimism is, because Mark Zuckerberg is a lot of things, but I'm not sure that Noted Inspiring Optimist is one of them. Yet he was praised for "having the optimism to become one of the youngest billionaires ever." Hmm.
So then Laura got up to speak, and she hit all her marks. Her speech did not seem as deep or intense as some of the more tear-jerking ones, but I thought it was well-structured and obviously in her natural voice. She started with the idea that little kids are naturally more optimistic because they imagine fewer possibilities, which I thought was funny, then she talked about her memory of starting kindergarten, then competitive swimming, then my breast cancer treatment.
I didn't have any expectation that she would win, because I had no idea what the judges were really looking for. But she won first place! Nobody was more surprised than she was when they called her name.
After it was over and I thought about it, it was clear to me that she won because she was one of the few who actually said something to analyze the idea of optimism, namely that: Optimism comes easier when you train and prepare (her swimming example); and optimism is something that is shared among people and mutually reinforced and shored up in hard times (my cancer treatment). That's the nutshell, I will not inflict my child's prize-winning optimism speech on you in any greater length. I know you like me but there is a limit!
Anyway, so she got to advance to the County competition, which was last week. Matt's mom Betty came down to attend with Hank and Matt and me, and two of Laura's teachers were there. It was a big event.
It was clear that all of these kids were their school winners. The speeches were all good. Still plenty of inadvertently hilarious moments, but plenty of lovely moments too. In this crowd, there was a greater sense of self-awareness that perhaps, as ten year-olds, their obstacles had not been too steep, but that we all have our struggles, wherever we are. I truly had no expectation that she would win out of this crowd.
But darned if she didn't do it!
The night she won, after we were behind closed doors, Matt and I were like, "Seriously, why do you think she won? I don't know, why do you think?" Like, we're used to her and couldn't necessarily see what the judges saw, maybe. Height advantage? Her teacher had told me that she thought it was that L comes across as very natural and comfortable, like she's always giving speeches. I was like, "You should come to my house, she really IS always giving speeches." I don't know. Anyway, the fifth graders don't advance any farther than the county level, so her oratorical run is over for now. But it was a sweet and wonderful experience, and I mean it when I say, I was really impressed with all of those kids and their willingness to get up there and do that.
I told her, "Laura, I gotta say, you are really bringing it these days." And she is. And yesterday when Hank did something good in karate and got praised, I leaned over to her and whispered, "See? My kids are winners." And she gave me a massive eye roll. It was very advanced, that eye roll.