So when I tied for volunteer of the year, and my volunteer coordinator had to decide how to honor both me and the other volunteer, it was immediately suggested that I be the keynote speaker. Because I speechify real good, apparently. My coordinator and the Gala organizer have both heard my survivor speech, they've tabled with me, they've done workshops with me. They know that what I do is communicate.
And so they gave me this faintly terrifying honor. My survivor speech, plus a little something about BARCC. For 400 people. Oh, and it should motivate them to spend thousands of dollars on the auction that immediately follows my speech. But no pressure!
I accepted, of course, because it is an amazing honor. And I love BARCC, and have pretty well established that I'll do anything for them. :)
And then the day after I was asked, my kid got hit by a car (new readers: she's fine). And then I got the upper respiratory infection/maybe flu and was totally down for the count for two-plus weeks. And then I had the busiest week of the year. And this week was not a lazy week either. And now oh shit it's the Gala and I really should've written a speech, shouldn't I?
So I was going to write something yesterday, but I actively decided against it. Because if I'm shuffling index cards, I'm not connecting with the audience. And for this speech? I need that connection more than ever.
So I went to the Gala. Had a moment of panic when I realized I'd shrunk out of the dress I'd brought, and it was now a bit too boobalicious for the occasion; thankfully, I'd done my crazy nervous packing thing and had brought a spare dress in case the hotel was chilly (original dress is sleeveless). And thankfully, the replacement dress, though less glitzy, was elegant and fit perfectly. Phew. Went downstairs, checked out the stage situation - the podium was four feet tall and I'm not quite five feet tall, so we had to determine if the riser they brought in was sufficient, or if I should just use a handheld mike and wander around the stage. Then? Cocktail hour!
Adam/yendi came with me; speakers and award-winners get to bring a date for free, which is awesome, because otherwise there's no way we could've afforded a ticket for him. And, this being a huge part of my life - I want to share that with my husband! Also I want to show him off. (Note to Adam: every time you went off for a drink or more cheese and crackers, people said "He's cute!" Yes. Yes, you are.) So a big part of the happiness of the evening was just introducing him to everyone and showing him how wonderful all of my fellow volunteers and all of the staffers are, and how great it is to be part of such a wonderfully committed community.
Then we were ushered into the ballroom. A DJ introduced the executive director of BARCC, who talked about all of the amazing work BARCC does. And she introduced me, and made me all verklempt. Her introduction and my volunteer coordinator's. They gush. I'm like "I'm not that awesome! No one is that awesome!" But it is just mind-boggling and humbling to hear all of these things, to know how much you're valued.
And I stood up and kissed Adam and walked up and I gave the best speech I have ever given.
I hope someone was videotaping that. Because it was kinda a blur.
400 people. And at a certain point, yeah, that just becomes "many". 20, 40, 100, many. Many people. Lots of lights. Cameras. And me getting up on stage and to the podium and setting my hands on it so they wouldn't shake, thanking people for that introduction, taking a deep breath. I prefaced my speech the way I always do - by saying that this is my experience and I'm not speaking for all rape survivors. That my case was unusual in that it was not someone I knew. I said that I usually have a Q & A period after, but we don't do that here, so if anyone had any questions they should feel free to approach me later.
And: "Fifteen years ago, when I was twenty years old, I was raped."
I told my story. Or the highly condensed version.
You could've heard a pin drop.
I segued from my own story to talking about the work we do with BARCC. I got out of that situation by talking. And talking is what we need to do in order to effect change. I gave shoutouts to all of the branches of BARCC. I talked about how when I do a speech or a workshop, I know that every person there has the power to go out and be a voice and a presence in their community; that this is a power every one of us has.
I believe in BARCC. Oh, how I believe.
Adam can probably fill in more. I think I was just concentrating on keeping a logical flow of ideas, being concise, not saying "um", and communicating about how vitally important it is to not be silent about rape and sexual assault. I used (with credit) my volunteer coordinator's line about this being fundamentally optimistic work; we believe we can make this change. I pointed out that the last line of my bio is that I am fiercely optimistic.
I thanked all of my fellow volunteers, BARCC staff, and everyone who came out to support BARCC.
And I got a standing ovation.
And OMG all the photographs! *laugh* And I tried to get off the stage, but I got hauled back - because they had a huge bouquet for me. And.
A Wonder Woman lunchbox.
And that's the part that made me almost tear up.
Because dude. They could only give one volunteer of the yer award plaque, and that goes to the guy I tied with, and that's totally cool. I voted for him. :)
But they wanted to honor me anyway. So they gave me a speech. And they talked so wonderfully about all of the things I do; I am noticed, I am appreciated, I am admired.
And I am known.
My comic geekitude? Totally embraced. They wanted to give me something instead of the plaque. So they gave me a Wonder Woman lunchbox.
I am Wonder Woman, y'all.
And yeah, I couldn't shut up about that all night. :)
So many people came up to me to hug me and congratulate me and gush about my speech and express astonishment that that was totally extemporaneous. The words "powerful" and "inspiring" were bandied about on Facebook later. Like I said, stuff said at the Gala? Kinda a blur! My coordinator's roommate said it seemed like I was speaking directly to her; a few other people said similar things. So I'm really glad I went extemporaneous and was able to focus on the people.
The live auction followed, with people spending $4K-$9K on vacation packages. And at one point, the auctioneer acknowledged that not everyone came there prepared to spend $5K, but - who could afford to donate $500?
And bid cards went up all over the room.
And $250? Even more. And $100? And there were multiple cards up at each of the 40 tables, and I had tears and my glitter eyeliner got smudged *snif* but that's okay. It was just - staggering. Staggering.
And there was dinner, and awards, and awesomeness. And everyone coming up to me the whole night. Fellow volunteers, staff, police officers, corporate sponsors... I shook so many hands, gave so many hugs, thanked so many people.
I totally pulled that off. I was terrified! But I somehow just was on when I needed to be and delivered the best speech yet.
Finally left around 10. Got a parting volunteer gift (pretty aluminum water bottle with BARCC logo) and a card from my coordinator that I opened on the train; I'll reproduce the contents here:
I wish I had the gift with words that you do to express my profound gratitude for all the work that you do.
Your humor, grace, compassion, and energy continually inspire me and enrich the CAPS volunteer program. I'm so pleased to be your colleague in this work.
Thank you for all of the energy you give to BARCC, and for all that you have taught me.
Tucked inside the card? Slips of paper from the volunteer of the year nomination forms. So I got to see what my fellow volunteers had to say. There are a lot! I won't type up all of them. But here are a few:
"When I tabled with her, she impressed me with her knowledge and passion. She made me feel extremely welcome. I think she also contributes a lot at Peer Supe and advances my understanding."
"1. Blogathon blogathon blogathon
2. Always a great person to bounce ideas off of
3. She loves BARCC & doing this work; it's really inspiring
4. She's so damn nice"
"Shira seems extremely dedicated and involved with BARCC. I have really enjoyed doing events with her and it's always interesting to hear what she's planning to help support BARCC and the cause overall. She's also extremely friendly and nice."
"I think she is amazing. She is so strong and goes above and beyond to help out BARCC. She tries to raise money and has a blog that reaches out to so many individuals."
"* Amazing and inspiring work for BARCC through her gift for writing
* Passionate about the work
* Fabulous tabling partner - very easy to talk to, makes me laugh :)
* Outreach to communities not previously targeted by CAPS
* Always speaks up at meetings
* Courageous survivor speaker"
"Shira is super-invested in a variety of communities and has a powerful dedication to the cause of ending sexual violence. She's active, friendly, and experienced. Plus, she tables like a pro."
That's only some of them. Adam watched me goofy-grin as I read these waiting for the Silver Line.
I got a Wonder Woman lunchbox and so much appreciation from my colleagues and I am still all verklempt the next morning, you guys. Amazing.
It is enough just to be doing this work. But the recognition for it is pretty damn awesome, too.
Now I am going to go pin these slips to my bulletin board and beam at them for a bit.