I first met Molly MacGowan after I won my first speech contest as a junior in high school. One of the judges told me to go to Toastmasters to do what I could to improve before the next competition level. Intrigued, I decided to go see what it was all about.
It turned out that Toastmasters was the perfect place to go to for help in all things public speaking. The second meeting it was my turn to go to the podium so I could give my speech contest speech again so they could critique me. I remember shaking and reading my speech and seeing Molly’s eyes light up and a smile cross her face. She cared about me, she wanted me to do well. I remember the feedback on my delivery: make eye contact, don’t talk so fast. I went on to win the next competition level and compete in the regional competition, thanks to this club. The fact is, Molly was one of the reasons I kept going back. I ended up joining the Yreka Toastmasters as their youngest member and stayed until I graduated from high school. Now, I visit them on holidays and give guest speeches.
Molly is a leader, you might even call her a warrior. She’s witty, fun-loving, gracious, full of common sense and takes time to notice people. She is living a full life–she worked in a jail as a guard, competes as an eagle in figure skating competitions and dotes on her granddaughter. She’d always slip me notes of encouragement and things to remember to work on when I’d finish a speech. As she began giving me rides every week, she became my mentor of sorts. We’d have long talks in the car about life, whether it was about school, politics, love and pain, there were no limits. She said three things that have stayed with me to this day.
- The first is to not let fear keep you from living your life. I asked her why she took risks, if there was the chance that she’d fall–she replied that life is far too boring and that even if she made a mistake that she would have time to fix it. She told me that she used to have a pessimistic view on life until she realized she had better things to do with her time. So she doesn’t worry. About anything.
- The next piece of advice she gave me was, “It’s not about what you do but who you know.” This has helped me consider professional development and what I can do to build connections with others (I think public speaking and working with teams is a good way to get started).
- The third was the importance of perspective, that there are always three viewpoints: what you saw, what I saw and the truth. What I get out of this is that we are not always right and that truth is subjective by nature.
Molly came to support me at future speech contests centered around school and in turn I’d go watch her compete at Toastmasters speech contests. From a speaker’s perspective, I learned a lot about watching her preparation shine while she conducted meetings, how she’d remember to do things the proper way when others forgot and the way she exuded confidence when she was the one giving speeches. I’ve mirrored a lot of her technique, and have seen what an effective speaker does, especially when speaking on the fly. Where would I be without this spectacular, 73-year-old woman who could easily talk in front of 1,000 people without breaking a sweat? I enjoyed having a sit-down interview with her last summer when I interned for Siskiyou Daily News, and wrote two articles about her. One was a quirky story about a Labrador retriever and Molly and the other one was about wrapping up the skating season. We even went out to a luncheon and the cabaret theatre together. I realize that she’s popped up more times in my life than I can count. Molly and I have crossed paths many times and she has always in the background. The warrior is watching out for me.