Friday morning, I was at the Keller Auditorium for rehearsal on the stage. (Shout out to Jillian, a true hero! She gave me sub plans so that I could more easily take the day off work, and having that task removed from my plate was ridiculously helpful!) It’s a REALLY good thing that I got to be on the stage and in the space before the day of the event. I had pictured it being huge and overwhelming and terrifying up there… but the reality was a hundred times more so!
The lights were brighter than I thought, the teleprompter was smaller than I thought, and the microphone was just as awful as I thought… I’m actually significantly more afraid of microphones than audiences. Hearing my voice bouncing back at me is super awkward. (Also, the mic guy told me the earpiece microphone would make me look like Beyonce, but… I checked the mirror, and I didn’t see Beyonce. It just looked like me, wearing a mic attached to my ear.) Seeing people’s faces gives me energy to feed off, but the lights were so bright, I couldn’t see faces anyway…. I underestimated how completely alone, vulnerable, almost naked I would feel on that stage. Typically when I’m on stage, it’s with a choir, and I’m just part of the group. Or I’m teaching/facilitating a group, where I may be in front, but I’m leading a conversation with lots of participants. But on the Keller stage, it was just me. There’s nothing else to look at or listen to. Nowhere to hide or blend it. Nobody to pick up my slack. I knew those seats were going to be filled with 3,000 people the next day, plus the internet, but I’d never felt more alone than on that stage…
My head was still spinning when they gave me the go-ahead to begin speaking. I got about a sentence and a half in, and my brain shut down. I couldn’t comprehend any of the words on the screen in front of me. (Ironic, since I was trying to get to a story about a kid who also wouldn’t have been able to read the stupid screen…) I wondered if it had been a poor choice to write bullet points, and if instead I should have written out word-for-word what I wanted to say. I stumbled, stopped talking, couldn’t think, and then asked, “Can I start over?” That presumably inspired no confidence from anyone. My inner choirgirl chastised me for it, “Never stop! No do-overs! Just keep pushing forward, proving that you can recover from a misstep! What are you doing?? Ms. Duck taught you better!!” The second time through, I got to the end, but it wasn’t good. My affect was flat, and my pacing was slow. I was pretty sure I could do better, but I wasn’t sure I could do better by the next day!
That was my time on the stage, so then I went off with Annatova to practice some more in a dressing room. Originally, I had wanted to hold the clicker and move myself through the visual slides. I mean, I handle my own visuals in the classroom every day, so how hard can it be, right? But midweek, I realized how stressed I was going to be with coordinating reading/speaking/breathing, so clicking could be outsourced. That turned out to be the right choice. Annatova’s a gem of a person, and was completely dedicated to creating and executing visuals that would highlight my strongest points. And she was encouraging and kind and ready to help me with anything I possibly needed through the entire process. We made some minor tweaks to my notes, and then went through my speech two more times. It felt better…
Let me just insert here how dazzled I was by the entire theater experience. I was wandering back stage in the same theater where I’d seen so many of my favorite shows! Just two weeks earlier, I’d watched Hamilton on that stage! Days spent at the Keller have always been my very favorite, watching talent on stage that blows my mind. What was I doing in the same spots where Alexander Hamilton and Elphaba and Christine Daae and Brian Regan and the Cirque du Soleil performers had been?? I kept trying to stop and just drink it in. I have a couple theater friends in my life who hang out in those spaces all the time. But for someone like me who usually inhabits the back row, those are mystical, magical, sacred spaces.
Anyway, after that, I went back into the audience to listen to other speakers rehearse for a while. I was told I’d feel better after watching other rehearsals, and see how we’re all human and in the same boat together…. But that’s not how I felt! It was actually really stressful to watch everyone else give the talk they’d been practicing and polishing for 6 months. I could see the results of months spent choosing every word, practicing delivery, cadences, gestures. Plus they all got like 16 minutes or something to deliver their messages. I was supposed to do my talk in 7, which was a stretch from the original 5-6 I’d been given. At first, I’d been directed to speak really specifically, at the micro level, about techniques and applications for techquity. Then we’d talked more, and it expanded to the more macro-level–let’s go change the world and influence public policy. So I need to cover all the levels, plus introduce myself, and introduce a word nobody had heard before, and explain why it’s important in education, and why it’s important to non-educators, and how we’re all educators, and tell a story about a dear-to-my-heart former student…. All in 7 minutes?? With only a week to prepare?? Would you like me to spin some straw into gold while I’m at it?!? I wasn’t sure anymore if this was really the amazing opportunity I wanted it to be. I was afraid it was actually a giant practical joke from the universe…. Opportunities like this only come around once in a lifetime if you’re really lucky. I was trying to grab it with both hands and hold on tight, but it felt like a real set-up for failure…
I needed to get out of that space… I did my best to keep my game face on while making my exit. (Although I’m told that my face keeps no secrets, so it probably wasn’t successful.) Even though everyone had been nothing but supportive and kind through every single step of the process, I found myself wanting to scream at them for putting me in this impossible situation. I knew that was irrational, and I knew the irrationality was amplified by the fact that I had barely slept in a week. I was running on adrenaline and Dr. Pepper. So instead of screaming at the wonderful people that were constantly giving me the royal treatment, I left!
Got lunch somewhere, and then I still had some time to kill until my Erin was arriving. (Erin was on her way from Mexico!!! She flew out for the weekend, determined she couldn’t miss this moment. On the one hand, everyone needs an Erin in their life. On the other, who really deserves a friend like her??) With that window of time in my day, I honestly didn’t want to do anything at all. I didn’t want to practice any more just then, and I was so drained. I badly needed a place to just sit back, close my eyes, and maybe doze off if I was lucky. But where do you go to take a nap downtown? I had a wave of empathy for the houseless population… Then I wandered over to the library. That seemed like a nice, quiet place to just be. I found a random spot between shelves in the back of a room, and tipped my chair back. They probably don’t love people taking a nap between library shelves, but I decided to bank on my “white girl in a wheelchair” status to keep them from kicking me out. It worked; nobody bothered me.
I had only been there a minute when I suddenly burst into tears. Didn’t know that was coming! Such a week, so many feelings… I alternated between crying and pseudo-napping for a while. Such a hot mess! I tried to think invisible thoughts and hoped nobody could see me. Not my finest moment….
And then Erin showed up! Found me in my library hole, and we hugged and cried and laughed as only we can! I always feel stronger with Erin around…
We went for some pre-dinner nachos, like ya do, and talked at Gilmore speed, like we do. And then we met some friends for dinner at Habibi. It was exactly the evening I needed before the big day! Just friends I could relax and laugh with. Plus delicious food.
With a little help from a priesthood blessing, I was able to sleep better that night than I had all week. Still not a lot of hours, but it was something.
The next morning, I got dressed in the outfit Karista had picked out for me, and the earrings Erin had brought from Mexico. (What would I do without friends to take care of the important things?:)) The bus dropped me off, and I sailed through the stage door like I belonged. Not gonna lie, it felt good to bypass the long line I’m used to standing in! We had determined the previous day that the green room wasn’t going to work for me—there were five steps, and while they tried to put up a ramp, it was crazy-steep. So we’d chosen a comfortable dressing room I could use instead. I went straight there, and started running through my talk again. Annatova joined me, and we practiced going through it with the slides, making sure that I was fluent in my delivery, and she was clicking at the right spots.
Then there was a knock at the door. “Is it ok if Ann puts her dress in here?” What? Who’s Ann? Oh… oh! That’s Ann Curry! She came in, shook hands, and introduced herself, asking if it was ok to share the space, or if she’d be in my way. (What kind of person would tell Ann Curry no?) Then she asked if she could get us coffee. (This time we said no, thank you.) As she bustled in and out, I heard her offering coffee to everyone else, and actually delivering to a few. It’s like she didn’t know that she was Ann Curry! Except, I’m sure she did know, and she was using her position to fully support and lift up everyone around her. What a classy woman.
You know that moment in the movies, where the scrappy underdog is about to go do something scary, and then a wise celebrity/hero/cool-person-they-have-no-business-talking-to appears out of nowhere to give just the advice they need? I totally got that moment. It was cinematic. Ann started to give me the usual “just be yourself” blah-blah, and then she got more focused and intense, “Just remember, nobody is paying you to do this. You’re giving them a gift. And if some people don’t want the gift, fine, they don’t have to take it. But your job is to give the f***kin’ gift. So go out there, and give the f***kin’ gift!” Yes, that’s exactly what she said, exactly the attitude she said it with, and exactly what I needed! Life highlight, right there.
We chatted a little more. I told her that I was looking forward to hearing her speak. That got a delighted “Are you really?” in the same tone any of us normal humans would have used, as if my opinion actually matters to you when you’re Ann Curry. She talked about how a TED talk is different from her usual job of telling other people’s stories. This one required introspection, telling her own story, and talking about journalism in the context of our broken society. We talked about the importance of telling stories, and how the stories are told, and which stories are told…. It was lovely. I feel a little bit like I failed by not getting a photo, but I just couldn’t bring myself to kill the vibe.
I even got a bonus awesome-person-moment while waiting for the event to start. Greg Bell sat with me for a few minutes, encouraging me to drink in the moment. Every moment. Even this one. I told him that I want to be his friend, and I wish I were cool enough for that to be real, because I just love his vibe. He’s like this Zen-Master-Morgan-Freeman-Mr.-Rogers combo. He also gave me some brilliant advice: “There’s always going to be some fool trying to get in your way. Just make sure that fool isn’t you.” (I love that so much. I fully intend to repeat it to the kids whenever the moment calls for it.)
After soaking in all the goodness, I was as ready as I was going to be. I hung out in the narrow hallway for a while, making faces at Ron Artis II’s adorable baby girl, and getting my chair decorated with flowers, because why not?
Then it was my turn to get mic’d. Still didn’t look like Beyonce. They put lots of tape behind my ear to make sure it would stay in place, and sent me to wait just off-stage. I didn’t hear much of my introduction, but I know that my name has never sounded more strange and out of place than when it came out of Luis’ mouth just then. I felt like he’d just announced Big Bird was going to give the next talk. Or maybe that would have even sounded more normal.
I thought I was ready, but I’m pretty sure Dave had to say “go!” like three times before I went. And then I went! Found my spot on the giant red X carpet. No false starts this time. I knew that once I started speaking, I had to keep going. So first I took just a second to breathe, look around, and feel myself in the space. Then I went for it!
It still bothered me that I couldn’t see people, but I heard laughs when I opened by reinforcing my “did this in a week” crazy situation, and that helped. Laughter helps me relax and feel connected. Somehow that makes it safer to then open up and get vulnerable… I kept talking. I got to my story about “Jose,” which I can’t tell without my heart spilling out all over the place. I didn’t know if anyone was picking it up, but I was putting it out there. I love that kid so much, and still wish I could do more for him… I punctuated his story by comparing it to my own. The technology withheld from him had been offered to me twenty years earlier. You’d expect students today to get a better tech experience, but not so. It’s a matter of who has privilege, and who doesn’t, plain and simple. It was important to me to make that crystal clear.
I brought it back to techquity as a concept and a paradigm that has the potential to take our current efforts to a deeper, more meaningful level. I tried to be clear that I wasn’t proposing any easy, quick fixes to education. I was encouraging more intentional approaches to individualize and provide access to learning. If I had an hour, I could have shared a million examples. And it would have been clear that I don’t have all the answers, and that I fall very short of being the teacher I want to be. But my vision is becoming clearer all the time about who our students are, and what they can do, and what they need, and how we need to step up and do better. With access to technology growing, I see all these dots in place with powerful potential, but we’re not connecting the dots very effectively… We need to do better, and I said so…
Remember how we made minor tweaks to my notes the day before? Those tweaks didn’t make it to the teleprompter. There’s a moment mid-talk where I give what sounds like a dramatic sigh, and it’s actually because the teleprompter was only showing me words I’d deleted, and I was panicking. I needed to keep talking without being able to see the next portion of my notes… I did, and they caught up with me pretty quickly, thank goodness.
And then it was over! I heard applause, but still couldn’t see faces or anything, and for a moment I felt a little out-of-body while exiting the stage…. There I was greeted by the world’s most enthusiastic praise and high fives and hugs and slaps on the back and kisses on the cheek! I wonder if that’s what it’s like when you run a marathon and cross the finish line? My heart was racing and I breathlessly repeated like ten times, “That just happened! That just happened!” My brain couldn’t even compute that I’d just given a TED Talk! Nobody does that! Definitely not a little nobody like me! Did I really just give a TED Talk??! Such a rush!!
As they removed my mic, Ann Curry ran around the corner to give me a hug and tell me I was amazing, and that I’d received a standing ovation, “Did you see it?!” No, I actually hadn’t! And now for the rest of my life, I’ll be able to say the sentence, “I didn’t know I’d received a standing ovation until Ann Curry told me.” That just isn’t a sentence many people get to say. So far, I haven’t gotten tired of saying it.
After that, I got to settle into my front row seat (never sat anywhere near the front row of the Keller before!) and just enjoy the rest of the day. I felt super lucky that I got to speak early in the program, so then it was off my shoulders, and I could listen attentively to everyone else. So much goodness to take in!
I also got to enjoy warm and kind feedback from all sorts of people. Both that day, and ever since. The best are people saying “I was that kid…” or “I know that kid… Could we talk about strategies that might help me serve them better?” I’ve heard my own language echoing in professional conversations, and seen a renewed energy and desire to be creative and outside-the-box in meeting students’ needs. My own classes watched the video while I was gone, and have been soooo sweet and supportive and interested in having conversations about all of it.
Overall, I’m just indescribably grateful for the incredible opportunity and platform that the amazing folks at TEDx offered me. How many people actually get the chance to shout from the rooftops about their passion? Taking an idea that’s existed mostly in my head for years, and handing it over to thousands of people, hopefully igniting conversations and action beyond what I’ll ever know about, is so surreal. So humbling. Techquity has always felt bigger than me, or like it should be bigger than me, and now it can be. I’m not the guardian of the idea anymore. It’s out there, and now the world can grow it, shape it, apply it, however it sees fit. That’s a little scary, like watching your baby leave the nest, but mostly it’s thrilling to imagine the possibilities.
I’m also beyond grateful for all the friends and community that have surrounded me with love and support through this whirlwind of a process. I heard the sentiment several times that week, “I’m so excited and nervous and my heart is racing… I feel like it’s happening to me!” The sweet fruit of tu eres mi otro yo.
What’s next? I have no idea. The world somehow seems more open and full of possibilities to me now than a few weeks ago. I hope that in some shape or form, I get more opportunities to collaborate with people who are trying to do better for our kids.
One of my super cool 8th graders randomly said last week that “The world is going to end on Saturday.” She didn’t know about my upcoming talk that day, and it was such a weird comment, which she couldn’t explain…. But afterward, when she’d listened to my video, she changed it to, “Actually, I think something just got started on Saturday. It was a beginning.”