Finding my Voice through the Voices in Literature Conference
By Hailey T.
May 20, 2019
I’m quiet. I rarely use my voice, yet this year I decided to join a conference focused on “The Power of Voice.” Every year, Westridge’s Perspectives in Literature class hosts its own student-led conference called Voices in Literature and Culture. This year, the main focus of the class was to examine the voices of female African-Americans. However, the conference topic was expanded to include all voices in the theme “The Power of Voice.”
“The conference promotes one of the English Department's goals of examining a quality life out of the classroom and tries to bring a bigger community together to think about these issues,” shared Ms. Yurchak, the conference supervisor.
At the beginning of the year, I never would have thought to participate in any conference, much less a conference managed by the Upper School. Before eighth grade, I never spoke voluntarily in class because I was afraid of judgment. I was afraid of getting the answer wrong to a question, even when there was no correct answer, and I didn’t want the imaginary judgment of my classmates to cloud my thoughts for the rest of the day. At the beginning of my eighth grade year, I still rarely spoke in class, let alone outside of it. However, the eighth grade English and history classes encouraged in-depth class discussions, and because the teachers encouraged all voices to be heard, I slowly began to come out of my shell.
During that process, I began to push myself as a speaker. When I heard about the opportunity to present at the conference, I was hesitant to join at first. I still hadn’t quite overcome the fear of speaking in front of an audience. However, the theme of the conference pushed for me to participate.
Although it’s rare for students outside of Upper School to participate, the conference is open to students from fourth to twelfth grade. Some students submit art pieces. Others share essays or creative performances.
As soon as I heard the theme for this year’s conference, I knew I wanted to speak about a time when I had been bullied. During that period, I felt like I had no voice. I was trapped, unable to speak out, and afraid of how this bully might retaliate. The bully threatened me with words and actions, and I felt as though I couldn’t speak out because of that. In my poem, I wanted to display that fear and give a voice to those who have been bullied because their voices were usually left unheard.
Once I figured out my topic, I had to decide on a method of presentation. I knew I wanted to write a piece that would resonate with the audience, and I wanted to convey emotion into my presentation. Earlier that month, I had listened to a spoken word poem online, and it left me in awe. The way the speaker conveyed emotion in the delivery of her poem and constructed it to connect with her audience made me wonder if I could do the same in my own voice. Her ability to inspire solely with words motivated me to write my own poem.
The conference took place after school on Wednesday, April 24. My panel was titled, “Silencing vs. Empowering: Personal Experiences.” In it, I presented my poem: ”An Unheard Story.” I was grouped with three girls: Rachel H., ’19, Lily N., ’19, and Megan B., ’23. Although we each had our own story to share, we all discussed a time when we experienced the loss of our own voice.
Attending and presenting at the conference was an enjoyable experience. I found it interesting to listen to the stories presented by the other girls, and I liked sharing my own. At first, I was nervous to speak in front of an audience filled with strangers, but as time progressed, my fears began to subside. I realized that the people in the audience weren’t there to judge you, but instead they were there to support you. It was nice to be able to open myself on topics of which I would usually keep to myself. Although at first I was nervous, it offered me an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and reach beyond what I thought capable of myself. I’ll take this experience and use it as a stepping stone in my journey to speak up and use my voice.