Back in college I competed in public speaking for Oregon State University. I loved the art of crafting speeches. I loved using words to create pictures in people’s minds. In January of my senior year, just a few months before graduation, my speech partner and I qualified for nationals. We were the first on the west coast in our event to qualify for nationals on points. We had every intention of winning nationals. The day we qualified, the coach for USC offered us full scholarships for our Masters Degrees, contingent upon us going to nationals.
Driving home that very same night a 17 year-old kid was seeing how fast his new Dodge Charger would go. The police estimate that he was going 70-85 when he hit me.
I did not go to nationals that year. In fact, it was nine months before I could even open my mouth again. I barely was able to finish college, and I don’t believe I ever gave a public speech again until I was named Teacher of the Year in 2014.
That summer of 14 I had the honor of speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and I am unable to tell you how it felt to stand in that spot and speak out for LGBT youth and for kids with special needs. It was a small affair, but one that had great impact on me. My only regret was that the event came as a surprise and I did not have a chance to write a proper speech. The kind of speech where you labor over every word and sentence until you have crafted poetry and prose and speech all wrapped up inside each other. I was honored to speak on the National Mall but lamented that my words could have been more beautiful, more impactful, more insightful…
But a dream is coming true. On July 8th I have been asked to give a speech at the Save Our Schools Rally in Washington, D.C. For 5-8 minutes I will have the absolute honor to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and speak out for teachers, schools, for kids with special needs and for LGBT youth.
I get the opportunity to write a speech that I hope will rise to the occassion of where it is spoken. I want to think of the people who have stood there before me. I want to live up to the words that so many Americans have shared on what I consider to be hallowed ground.
And I weigh again the wonder that is life. I think of 23 year old me seeing those headlights suddenly appearing behind my car. I remember the pain of my jaw being put back together, and my ribs being put back in my sternum. I think back to that Oregon kid who had just qualified for nationals, who had just been given their future in the form a scholarship to USC for a Masters. And I think of the tires screaming and the metal crashing as that future was blinked out in an instant. I mourned for that lost future for a long time but fate gave me a different one that lead me towards the classroom and a husband and a present that I never in a million years would have dreamed up for myself.
That was the first time my voice was robbed from me. The second came when Multnomah Education Service District gave me orders that I was not allowed to say I was gay in public. They threatened me, told me I could not speak to LGBT kids because “meeting with those students has no value to the district”, fired me, unfired me, tried to fire me again and did their best to destroy my career. But their actions to silence me reminded me of a time when my voice was stolen. I refused to be silent and I fought for my right to speak. And because of those obscene actions by my district, my voice grew. The story got out. I stood my ground.
On July 8th I will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I will give a speech that comes from my heart. I will stand up for gay kids and special needs kids and anyone who is bullied. I will fight for education and I will speak up for teachers and I am going to relish every single syllable that comes out of my mouth.
You see, I had a dream, and it went away for a while. But it came back to me tenfold and I am eternally grateful.
I hope to see you in Washington, D.C.