Sunday, September 22, 2013

Speech 101

Cheryl and I had a conversation the other night about our college Speech 101 class.  It’s a conversation we have about every year or so.  We’re an old married couple … it’s what we do.

We both had Dr. Jack Ryan* for speech, but we took the class at different times.  And we always end up laughing when we talk about it.  How can there be so many awkward and funny moments in one class?

I took speech in the fall of 1984.  My dad filled out my first semester schedule, and he signed me up for it.  I sat by a 5th-year senior who had put off speech for as long as absolutely possible.  All of us were a little nervous at the start.  As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking.  Number two is death.  Death is number two.  Does that sound right?”

During the semester, we gave a handful of presentations—class intros, “how to” speeches, panel discussions—and each one seemed a little easier than the last as we got more and more comfortable with each other.  And at the end of the semester, we gave a series of persuasive speeches.  I remember one of those clearly, because of a classmate who chose the topic of “Why Christians Should Not Participate in Air Band Contests.”

Maybe I should provide some background here.

The Harding University Student Association had just sponsored an “air band” contest on campus.  Air band contests were somewhat the rage at the time.  (There was even a short-lived syndicated TV program in the ‘80s called Puttin’ on the Hits where contestants lip-synched popular songs of the day.)

For me, the irony of this particular persuasive speech was that I had participated in the Harding air band contest.  Four of us freshman guys had formed the band “High Voltage” for the event.  Yes, you read that correctly, H-i-g-h V-o-l-t-a-g-e.

And now, a week or two later, this guy was working very hard to convince my entire class that the SA-sponsored activity was wrong.

The 5th-year senior to my right kept looking over at me, saying with his eyes, “You know this is for you, buddy.”

And as I look back on that speech and on that day and on that entire class, I have nothing but warm memories.  Here’s why:

In Dr. Ryan’s class, you could give a speech about why Christians should not participate in air band contests OR you could give a speech about why Christians should participate in air band contests.  Either speech was completely fine.  Every single person in that classroom had a voice.  Women.  Men.  Conservative.  Liberal.  Each person could speak up and not be shot down.  Everyone had the floor for 5 minutes apiece. 

And Dr. Ryan oversaw the whole proceeding … not as a judge but as a facilitator.  He gave pointers about eye-contact and volume and pronunciation and content and remembering who was in your audience, but he never said you’re-wrong or you-shouldn’t-believe-that or what-does-the-Bible-say.

And now that I think about it, maybe for us Speech 101 was a short-term lesson in public speaking, and a long-term lesson in the way a community should operate … in the way a church should be.  Maybe it was a lesson in the fact that we might disagree about some things, but that ultimately we agree about most things.

Maybe we learned that listening, understanding, and accepting go a long way.

From the 1985 Petit Jean.

* Dr. Ryan … easily one of my favorite teachers at Harding U.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Remembering Shin

Sometimes, you don’t realize the impact someone has on your life until many years later.

I remember my first conversation with Shin Shishido.  He was a transfer student to Harding Academy from Japan, and three of us boys stood around one afternoon, talking in Mr. Brown’s classroom.

I didn’t understand a word Shin said.  He was still learning English. 

Shin’s English improved quickly, and we became friends during high school and college.  He was one of those people I didn’t know very well, but who I liked very much.  He was a person with a good aura.  His laughter and smile were infectious.

I recently heard that Shin had passed away.  Although I hadn’t seen him for over 20 years, I felt sadness for his family and for the rest of us who’d known him.

But I will always remember Shin …

As a terrific second baseman
As a kind and courageous man who survived a tsunami
As a husband and father
As one of the good guys