Essay written by WriteGirl mentee Janel, 12th grade
Three years ago, if anyone had asked me to read my poetry aloud in front of an audience, I would have laughed and politely declined. I was hardly comfortable sharing my written work with others, let alone getting up on a stage and performing the poetry I had scribbled into my journal and tucked away for safekeeping.
This all changed when I joined WriteGirl.
At fourteen, I lacked the confidence and bravery to perform my work in front of an audience. But at seventeen, I gladly accepted the opportunity to be the guest performer at Mayor Eric Garcetti’s luncheon for the empowerment of women in February of 2014.
When Keren Taylor asked if I could make it to the event, the words, “Yes, I’d love to,” left my mouth quicker than I could process what I had agreed to. But nevertheless, I was thrilled and honored to represent WriteGirl and share my words with those who would attend the luncheon.
The morning of the event, I felt uneasy since there would be no familiar WriteGirl representative to look to. Still, I knew that I had WriteGirl’s support and encouragement regardless of the lack of physical presence. I remembered what Keren had said to me the day before: “You can do this, Janel. You’ve done it plenty of times before.”
And it was true. I had read my work aloud countless times at WriteGirl workshops, public readings and at other literary events that I had gone on to pursue after breaking the barrier of my self-doubt. Step by step, reading after reading, I became much more comfortable in front of audiences. Now, it’s easy. It’s nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, it’s something to be excited about; it’s something I take pride in and thoroughly enjoy doing.
Upon walking into the Getty House, I was handed a rose and a nametag. With the support and encouragement of two members of the mayor’s staff, I rehearsed my poetry prior to the event’s commencement. I perfected my performance and eased out of the anxiety that was quickly spreading within me.
I took my seat at one of the outdoor tables and began introducing myself to the surrounding women and girls. I clutched my WriteGirl journal as I explained the mission of the non-profit organization that has given me so much. I answered their questions so easily, it was obvious that I was not only immensely involved with the program, but also knew every page of the WriteGirl website backwards and forwards.
As everyone was enjoying their lunch, the event coordinator introduced me to the mayor. When I told him I was from WriteGirl, he said, “I love WriteGirl! It’s a great organization. I have all your books!” We spoke briefly before the first speaker went up on stage and I returned to my seat.
When it finally came time for me to perform, my mind became flooded with the seemingly infinite list of things that could go wrong. But, to my relief, the tent stayed up, a meteor did not fall from the sky, and no, nobody threw tomatoes at me.
The moment I stepped up to the podium, everything shifted. My worries vanished and instead, I readily introduced myself to the audience. I gave a brief background about WriteGirl and talked about the growth I’ve witnessed in myself throughout my involvement with the program. I told the crowd that after being nominated for the full-tuition Posse scholarship by WriteGirl, I am now proud to say that I will be attending Dickinson College in the fall as a Posse scholar. This statement was greeted by a round of applause.
I took a deep breath in, and began performing my poetry. I read an extended version of my poem, “If I Were a Writer,” which was published in WriteGirl’s latest anthology, YOU ARE HERE: The WriteGirl Journey. I looked around at all the attentive faces. The mayor and his wife sat at the table directly in front of me. As I read, the audience was visibly engaged––nodding their heads at times or laughing at others. The conclusion of my poem was met not only with applause but also with a standing ovation on behalf of those in attendance.
The path I took back to my seat was marked by words of praise on behalf of the luncheon attendees. I became filled with an overall sense of success.
After the Mayor’s closing remarks came time to exchange contact information with all the wonderful women I had met at this event. It was such an incredible experience, as countless people came up to shake my hand and tell me that they enjoyed my work.
One of the women was a professor who has taught creative writing at prestigious colleges and universities, and she came up to say she was impressed with my writing skill, especially for someone my age. Many other women offered words of advice and inspiration, uttering things like: “Don’t ever stop writing!” and “You have a gift and please continue to share it with the world.”
As so many people were complimenting my courage, it finally occurred to me how far I have come. Many of the women––and they were all brilliant, successful, hard-working women––told me they couldn’t have performed as I did that day.
But neither could I, three years ago. I have ultimately transformed not only into a better writer, but into a performer, a storyteller, and a confident individual.
And I couldn’t have done it without WriteGirl.
Congratulations Janel! Help WriteGirl mentor more girls like Janel to brighter futures. Donate now and make an immediate, measurable and lasting impact on the life of a young girl.