Fast Forward to Freshman Year
March 5, 2018
By the time I reached high school, my insecurity was at a breaking point. I tried to hide my scar with makeup, but no beauty product could fully cover the mark on my face. I did, however, decide to join clubs and make new friends. Freshman year, I managed to stumble upon two fairly different things that would ultimately change my life: RJ Palacio’s novel Wonder and Forensics. One gave me the courage to speak my truth, while the other gave me a platform.
When the forensics season started, I was told by my coach to find a book and cut it down to an eight minute performance. At that point I figured I could just pick something off of my bookshelf, so I pulled out a bright blue novel that was gifted to me a couple of months prior, titled Wonder.
As I read through RJ Palacio’s book about a boy with Treacher-Collins Syndrome, I felt a part of myself in every page. While Auggie’s craniofacial difference was more severe than mine, I could relate to all his feelings: being insecure, getting teased and questioning whether or not my facial difference would always matter to myself and others. At the end of the book, when Auggie receives a standing ovation for bringing kindness to his school, my tears soaked the pages. I was so proud that he had people cheering for him, just for being who he was. In Wonder, I had found representation of the struggles I had gone through for the first time in my life. I knew this was the prose piece I would have to perform, and I had the smallest inkling of hope that this was going to be a turning point for me; that giving a voice to Auggie’s story, and also to my own, would finally give me the confidence to know that what I said mattered. That I mattered.
For weeks on end I practiced everyday after school, working with coaches and older students. They told me that they were impressed at my skill level, but I still felt like I was not good enough to break into the semifinal round. While the praise made me feel appreciated, I still struggled with recognizing my own capabilities.
At the first tournament, wearing a blue jacket that matched the cover of the book, I gave my performances everything I had. I was so nervous, but knew that to break to semifinals I would have to set my fear aside. After lunch, when the semi-final postings were hung in the cafeteria, I saw my name written in big block letters. Later that day, when I saw that I broke to the final round, I cried tears of joy. I realized that I could tell a story dear to my heart in a way which I did not think I was capable of before. That day, I brought home a fifth place trophy.
To my surprise, I found success at the next two tournaments as well. I won fifth place at each. More surprising, though, was how much praise I was getting from my other competitors. People who I did not know would come up to me and compliment me, saying that my performance moved them. It was strangely cool to become so popular within this community, a group of competitive speech kids that shared my passion.
Before I knew it, I was on the bus to the last tournament in Holland. Everything flew by so quickly, that before I knew it I was getting ready to perform in the final round. Standing in front of the packed classroom, I held my head down and took a deep breath. I kept thinking to myself how this could be the very last time I ever performed this piece. I put every emotion I had been harboring for the last 10 years into that performance.
At the awards ceremony, I was nervous. My goal was to get fourth place, to break my fifth place streak. When prose was called, I walked up to the stage with the other five finalists. Putting my head down, I heard the names getting called. Sixth. Fifth. Fourth. I was pleasantly surprised I made it to the top three. Third. Now I was simply a jumble of nervousness and excitement. Second. I heard people gasp. “And in first place, from Portage Northern High School, Lily Antor!”
I shook the man’s hand as he handed me the tallest trophy of the bunch. Before I even looked up at the audience, I could hear cheering. When I raised my head, I saw everyone standing and applauding with pride. Just like Auggie, I got my standing ovation.