“No army can win against the force of one whose time has come.”

These words by Victor Hugo were uttered by Demond Wilson, the executive producer of the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions. I was competing in humorous interpretation and, despite my success, was haunted by the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there. During his speech, my heartbeat quickened, fueled by passion instead of anxiety.

“Preparation leads to confidence and confidence leads to success,” he reminded the hundreds of talented competitors on that 10th day of May. “Say to yourself, ‘I gave it everything I had. I gave it my all.’”

My mind lingered on that. It never mattered if I won or lost with my speeches because I always gave my performances 100% and brought laughter to others. At that national speech meet, I was ready to compete!

In round one, I felt like Wonder Woman in my blazer, skirt and pantyhose. As friendly Nebraskans, my mom and I engaged in small talk with the judges.

“So where are you two from?” I asked, knowing that people from all over the country were at this speech meet.

“I’m Ree,” the blonde judge’s rough voice proclaimed. Her white smile glowed against her tan skin. “All the way from South Carolina! What about you, hon?”

“Denver, Colorado,” the other dark-haired judge commented. Her soft demeanor reminded me of a mom.

Ree’s jewelry jingled as she turned to face her. “Wooooow, you know I’m from Denver!”

“We’re from the Grand Island area in Nebraska,” my mom added. Of course, the judges nodded their heads, pretending they knew where that was. “Ree … is that short for something?”

“Marie,” Ree instantly and coldly replied. “But if I wanted you to know that, I would have said ‘Marie’ so …”

“Oh.” Mom leaned over and whispered to me, “Looks like I struck a chord there.”

Let me explain what humorous interpretation is. A humorous speech is a 10-minute script with a hilarious plot involving multiple characters portrayed by the actor with various accents and positions. I arranged mine from the book, “Dumplin” by Julie Murphy. It’s about a fat girl and her misfit friends entering a Texas beauty pageant and seeking advice from a drag queen, despite her disapproving mother.

I had perfected this speech for months and felt a bolt of electricity when my name was called to perform. Marie, I mean, Ree and the Coloradan judge were perched with pens in hand like gargoyles.

I breathed deeply before jolting into my fat girl position with wideset feet and a double chin. As I spoke, bursts of laughter followed, until I was interrupted by a rhythmic beeping.

The stopwatch! I wasn’t even through my intro, and the darned contraption started screeching! The Coloradan judge frantically fiddled with the device while I sashayed across the room as a flamboyant drag queen. Exasperated, Ree snatched away the timer and stabbed at it with her long fingernails.

Both judges tinkered with the timer like surgeons around an operating table, but instead, they were struggling to silence the patient’s incessant heartbeat. Beep beep … beep beep … beep beep! Flustered, the Coloradan stuffed the exploding stopwatch into her purse, but the device’s maniacal laugh could still be heard from within.

Thankfully, it never affected my voices or facial expressions, but that didn’t stop my stomach from filling up with dread.

Ree’s right eye began madly twitching to the rhythm of the beeping. In the middle of my speech, she dug the spastic machine out of the purse, marched out the door, and chucked the stopwatch into the hallway. Even then, the timer’s high-pitched voice continued to mock me, “Ha ha … ha ha … ha ha!”

“We wouldn’t be distracted even if a train came through the room,” Ree smugly remarked, not caring to look up from her ballots as I sunk red-faced into my seat.

I remembered Demond’s words and did absolutely everything in my power to prepare and perform. Knowing full well that I had lost the attention of my audience, I built up to the climax of my speech and felt my heart sink with the falling action.

At least I understand that success will follow, just not at the time you expect. Realize that even when opportunity knocks, it might just be a ding-dong ditcher when you answer the door.

In fact, a family friend was looking forward to being mentioned in my Valedictorian speech at my graduation, and I apologize for disappointing her. Nevertheless, I thought I should recognize her in this article; unlike my timer incident, you deserve to have your moment, ________ (I encourage you to read the first letter of the last five sentences to form the name of the individual I want to thank. The final word in my previous article was “team.”)

Grace McDonald is a recent graduate of Centura High School. She will be attending the University of Nebraska at Kearney to major in journalism.

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