Monday, June 1, 2015

Pitzer n' Plastic

When Tracy Tindle '82 asked me to participate in Pitzer College's Alumni Weekend I had no idea that it would spin into a really BIG deal with an opportunity to develop my public speaking skills under the tutelage of an expert speech trainer.  She invited me to give a TED-like talk for the Ideas Fair at the Pitzer Institute for Entrepreneurship (PIE). Masterminded by Melinda Henning '68. PIE intends to help students develop leadership skills ( including public speaking) that will help them put their ideas into action.

Through the years Richard and I have given numerous power point presentations and have developed quite a lively song and dance routine — somewhere between Harold Pinter meets David Mamet and Punch and Judy. Guess who is Punch?  Way too shy, a nervous nelly, I never took drama classes or did theater in school — almost fainted from fear during my piano recital in 5th grade.

Melinda's office at Power Speaking in Redwood City sits across the street from the Oracle headquarters. The gleam from that towering presence, an epicenter of Silicon Valley, let me know that I was not in Kansas any more. 

As a speech coach, Melinda has had an illustrious career helping people (as her byline says) go from competent to charismatic. And her big smile and genuine interest in helping get the word out about plastic, put me at ease.

With my head reeling with way too many stories and way too many important points she helped map a cohesive framework for my talk. Her understanding of how much the audience can grasp and the timing of their receptivity, along with her suggestions about voice and cadence guided me through our practice sessions.  

When I hit the stage, yes, I was quaking in my boots, but I stepped it up and fooled myself into giving a stellar performance. With Melinda in the audience cheering me on, I realized that I really could do this and the audience they too gave it up with applause. Not exactly easy as PIE but I am sure game for another slice. 

On stage after the individual presentations, Melinda moderated a panel with students and audience participation in a discussion with the other presenters: Susy Sobel '12  juvenile justice; Feby Boediarto '17 Nepal; and  Allison Donine '16 gender and natural disaster response.

After fretting with anticipation, preparing for and presenting my speech, I was ready for some fun. In addition to the serious topical discussions at the Ideas Fair, the weekend was a blast of get-togethers and cocktail receptions - a networking fest - with old and new best friends. 

On Saturday evening there was a finale concert and roast of the outgoing Pitzer President Laura Skandera Trombley. Sorry that I did not stay to enjoy the music and the moon but by then I was really tuckered out and I knew I still had more big days ahead. Early Sunday, I drove to San Diego to visit my sister Janis Jones and of course, first thing, we headed to the beach. Something about the family that prays together. We collected bags full of plastic. Back at home we washed the plastic in preparation for my workshop Monday in Karol Gans' third grade classroom at Del Rio Elementary School in Oceanside where my sister is the school based resource teacher.

When All the Way to the Ocean was published in 2006, Joel Harper '95, and I corresponded via email. I had long been a fan, so it was a special thrill to meet up with him at Pitzer at the Ideas Fair. He gave me his new picture book Sea Change about a girl who collects plastic from the beach then makes artwork out of it. Sound familiar???

To introduce the students to our beach plastic project, I showed our film One Beach Plastic and I read aloud Sea Change.  Inspired by these stories, the kids got seriously to work. It was remarkable to see this energetic, and I hear-tell often rowdy group, focus their attention on making artistic arrangements. Everyone's creation was photographed and Janis posted them on Joel's website. The students were thrilled to know that their artwork would live on and would be viewed by a world- wide audience. And Joel is thrilled to learn about how well the message of his book was received and then put to use. 

It was really a full circle weekend. From sparking up ideas at the Ideas Fair and then putting the ideas into action at Del Rio. And along the way, I met some wonderful people, made some new friends and got to spend time with my family.