The Speech

One of the mental hurdles I had to overcome to start Darden was becoming comfortable being away from my family the first week of first grade for my daughter. Jennifer and I had a tradition of being there when our kids got on and off the bus the first day of school. I knew this would not be possible for my daughter’s first day of school and I came to accept this realty in the days leading up to Darden. Missing her first day took on greater significance than one might think because it represented the first time my decision to return to school would impact our family’s traditions and routine.

As one of nine Charlottesville locals attending Darden, the administration had strongly encouraged me to stay at Darden the entire week of our Leadership Residency to allow for time to build relationships outside the classroom. Though I tried it one night, I quickly decided that the mental health benefits of staying at home outweighed any missed networking opportunities with my classmates.

Who knew that making school lunches and breakfast for the kids would provide me a much needed daily strategic renewal?

When I departed for Darden on Tuesday, I did so with an unexpected feeling of victory. The following day would be the first day of first grade and while I knew I would have to leave for Darden before the bus arrived, I would still able to be present for my daughter’s first day.  Darden hadn’t taken away this important family tradition and I was pumped.

Five hours later as I tried to calmly breath outside the classroom my mind racing about Dad’s cancer, the start to my morning represented hope. Hope that even though I knew Darden would have a life changing impact on my family, it was manageable and, importantly, meant that I knew I would be able to be there for my father.

Knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do for my Dad at that moment, I entered the classroom, practiced a lot of deep breathing and prepared to speak.  A few more deep breaths and I delivered my story to a class of virtual strangers. Only fumbling my words for a brief moment, the speech seemed to go well.

Feeling like an incredible weight had been lifted, I collapsed in my seat. A few minutes later, the class took another break and I was overwhelmed with the number of positive comments I received from my classmates. Some asked questions about my son and were so happy that the story had a happy ending. Others shared that they had become emotional listening to it. Little did they know the range of emotions I was experiencing while presenting went well beyond those associated with my story. Despite this unexpected challenge, I was able to successfully deliver my story and connect with my classmates. Maybe I was just caught up in the moment, but it truly felt like my speech allowed me to build a bond with my audience and transform them from mere classmates to something more.

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