In 2014, my sister graduated from high school. I will always remember it vividly: she had a letter from Clemson University in her hand, she slowly ripped the envelope, tearing the return address lettering up and staring at the piece of paper for what seemed like hours, and with each passing moment, all I could think about were the countless hours she spent studying, working on her education to get to this point. And then the screaming, lots of screaming. She got accepted and there were hugs, tears, more screaming and just joy. There have been only a handful of times where I’ve been “living in the moment” and thought to myself just, “Wow”.
This past weekend was one of those experiences. The UC Berkeley Speech team travelled to Chabot Community College, in Hayward, California for a Forensics Tournament with five students. We were facing schools with 15-20 members on their team, with over 15 colleges and universities attending; they had an uphill battle to face. However, at the end of the weekend, of the 11 speaking events that are offered, Berkeley won 7 of them. With just five members, this team was able to win the entire tournament. Wow. Rewind two weeks ago: the team was spending hours in coaching sessions, they were messaging me daily with updates and questions. On a regular basis, each member puts in approximately six or seven hours a week on their speeches, not including being full-time students, and I working at my placement site. Time and time again, I was antagonized by my friends, family, the team alike, all wondering why are we (the UC Berkeley Team) putting in so much effort into this. And from that work ethic, to be rewarded with winning a tournament?
If being the coach of this team has taught me anything, it’s the value I have for hard work and dedication. Throughout my time here in California, one of my biggest concerns was my mentality; I thought I would go back into “College Mode,” just going through the motions and trying to survive. Working a full-time position, coaching tens of undergraduate students, keeping my personal/ spiritual life in check, it’s a lot. Most would say (and still do) that it’s too much. And they’re not wrong, this is a lot for a 24-year-old to undertake. But to see that “Wow” moment makes it worth it. Now ya’ll have to understand, in general, I’m a very active person. In high school, I grew up playing every single sport you can think of; I had some sort of practice whether it be sports, theater, instrumental, clubs, you name it, I was probably involved. In college, I played soccer, was in five theater performances, was on the speech and debate team, held two jobs and a “student”. But I do this, all of these events, clubs, organizations, for these moments. Watching my team stand in front of the entire tournament and accept their awards, seeing the smiles on their faces as their name is called, the joy I see in each face as they hugged and supported one another, moments like that are once in a blue moon, and when they do happen, all you can do is take a step back and enjoy it.
Early on in our LEVN Program, one of our directors, Casey, talked about having an “Aha” moment every time she takes the program to Lake Tahoe for an annual retreat. The beauty, the serenity up there just makes you truly look at the world in a different way and all you can say is, “Aha!” I like to think this is something along those lines. Seeing the dedication of each of these students and the constant effort they put in makes driving all those hours, the editing, the critiques, the painstaking arguments convincing a young adult that they are in fact wrong worth it. It puts into perspective what this is all about: volunteering for a year of service. I don’t get paid to coach this team. I do this for those moments, to see these students grow and develop their abilities not just in their speaking skills, but life skills. Just last week, one of my students was accepted to a news anchor position at school with over 300 applicants; another one received the part in As You Like It; all I can say is just, “Wow”. I won’t lie, sometimes I think to myself, “Nicky, why in tarnation are you doing this to yourself?” It’s overwhelming at times. But to see these accomplishments of these kids, in myself, it makes it all worth it. It’s like opening an acceptance letter, the obnoxious screaming, the tears, the joy that we all felt. It’s for the “wow” moments.