I honestly don’t know how I ended up in speech. I do remember that it was as a junior in high school, and it was an elective class. I know for certain that I had absolutely no intention of joining the speech team or going to any speech tournaments; it was just an elective choice that didn’t look too hard and might prove a little bit helpful. Edge changed my intention. She was a presence, a dynamo of frenetic energy, bordering on…no, crossing the line boldly into cheesiness. But she has a gift that I did not fully appreciate at the time, even as that gift worked its magic on me.
Edge has the wonderfully amazing ability to make individuals and groups feel like they are worth something and can accomplish more than they think. The goal that she put right out there in the open in front of everyone was Clackamas High School as the state speech champions every single year. She was “greedy for goodies”, over the top as she implored her “kidlets” to go out and destroy the competition and bring home the trophies. Just as important to her, though she never spoke it to us, is what proved to be the longer lasting achievement: her desire to give troubled or shy or overlooked high schoolers the skills and the confidence needed to expand their picture of who and what they could become.
So I somehow found myself at Willamette University on some random fall Saturday, competing in my first tournament as a “baby” speechie. My event was impromptu. Walk into a room by yourself with three judges staring at you, draw a slip of people with three words on it, and take 30 seconds to come up with a three minute speech that used those words. I would have been stressed, except for the fact that I didn’t care a bit. At first. Two things changed that pretty quickly.
One is, I started to get to know the rest of the speech team. I remember meeting Debby Applegate and Dan Radmacher and Paul Thompson, who I knew by reputation as the brightest and best people at our high school. And they were there to WIN. All of a sudden, I didn’t want to let them down, even though I’d only known them a matter of hours.
The second was either total luck or an act of providence, but in one of the early rounds I tasted the intoxicating flavor of success. I walked into one of the rounds, picked up the slip of paper, and read curve, line, and carve. In one too-good-to-be-true brainstorm, I smiled, because I knew I had it. I looked at the judges, and began. “Today, I want to teach you how to carve a pumpkin.” I made it as cheesy as an infomercial, and when the judges laughed out loud as I talked about the care with which you have to make the curve of the smile on the jack-o-lantern, I knew I had nailed it. I made the finals at my first tournament, and I was hooked. But that was only the beginning of Edge’s success.
Back in class the following Monday, Edge made heroes out of all of us who had gone to the tournament. I felt like I was special. And I think it was also her way of drawing even more new people into her web, enticing them to try a speech tournament so that they could be the one to be celebrated NEXT time. She did something else that I didn’t remember until last Thursday (at the event that was the tipping point to get me back to blogging).
Her room was lined with shelves that speechies used to display their trophies. Some were bigger than others, and she encouraged us to set our sights on one of the big senior shelves, to win enough loot to earn the right to call one of those our own. After that first tournament, she pulled me aside and said, “Aim for that big one. You can do it, if you put your mind to it.”
That’s what Edge did. She helped literally hundreds of high school boys and girls have the confidence to go for it. And her speech teams became these families of intentional leadership development, big brothers and big sisters taking younger students under their wings as proteges in links that stretched over several generations.
So it wasn’t a surprise several weeks ago when I received a letter inviting me to an event honoring Edge. She’s been retired since 1999, but a group of her students (spanning several decades) got together to honor her at her alma mater, Portland State University, on the soon to be created Walk of the Heroines. Diane “Edge” Edginton is someone I’m glad to give thanks and credit to for shaping part of who I am today. It was quite fun and moving to hear several people speak of the lasting impact Edge had on them, even twenty and thirty years later. All of us could point to things she taught us that still make a difference in what we do today. But I think the more wondrous thing is that Edge had a way of making people believe in themselves; and I would love to have just a portion of that gift rub off in how I interact with others.