Sunday, February 8, 2009

A previous life

In 1995, I was invited by the University of Idaho to be a presenter at the Borah Symposium. It was a week long event culminating in a two day conference with the Theme: Population, Peace and Conflict. I was in awe of my fellow presenters. Some we my heros and wrote books that I studied in graduate school and beyond. I rewrote my key presentation 20+ times (we gave smaller talks to various classes and student groups on campus and did the faculty and alumni group cocktail parties too). I practiced in front of the mirror whenever I had a free moment. I was to speak last. Oh the pressure. I threw up whenever I'd think about standing at the podium in front of a packed audience and the CSPAN cameras. AND my "peers" who were really my elders and brilliant and accomplished and .... I'm getting nauseous thinking about it now! When it was finally mine time, I thought that there was nothing more to say. They had said it all - straight forward with data to back their assumptions and fact to support their claims. They were the experts that I went to for information. What could I possibly add to this exceptional groups of human beings and the sharing of their life's work?

I left my prepared speech at the table and went to the podium. I began to speak from the heart, from experience. I told stories of war and the effects on population and its impact on immigration from my own experiences. I talked about coups that I witnessed first hand and human rights abuses and environmental disasters and the destroying of families and communities and lives asa consequence of population growth. I shared the reason why I decided to do the work that I did. I talked about what we in Moscow, Idaho that afternoon, as individuals, could do to reverse some of the trends that the experts had so eloquently lectured just before me.

I paused several times, because I found myself getting emotional. But it served my speech. I told the members of the audience that this symposium had the power to be a great catalyst and that by coming it showed that we all want a different future free from conflict. After my 30 minutes was up, I thanked the Borah Foundation for inviting me and shared what an honor it was to be in the company with the other panelists. I closed by suggesting that small everyday acts of courage and change could amount to a lot.

My ex-husband told me that he saw people crying as I spoke. He said the standing ovation lasted more than 5 minutes until the moderator had to settle everyone down.

It was the last big speech of my non-profit career.

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