The Runner-up

speechThrice that I tried, thrice that I failed. That in a nutshell is the story of my attempts to represent our school in the annual extemporaneous speech competition. Had I won first place in the contest I should have been the school’s bet for that event. But as usual, I ended up the runner-up and my friend Athena the winner. She really is an excellent orator. Whatever I can do, she can do better. It is what it is. That’s it. Perhaps next year, I’ll just try declamation so I wouldn’t compete with her anymore.

“I was just lucky Christian!” That was Athena trying to console me after the contest.

“It has nothing to do with luck. You’re really a good speaker.” You deserve to win. Good luck to the speech competition.”

After saying “thank you,” Athena embraced me. Well, that’s my consolation prize, I got a hug from my friend.

Then the day of the competition came. I went to the school hosting the cultural contests to watch the different events. As soon as I reached the campus of the host school, my phone rang. It was Mrs. Simon, our school principal. She asked me to see her immediately so we could talk. Sensing the urgency in her voice, I headed hurriedly to the library of that school where she said she would wait for me.

“Christian… Athena is in the hospital now, she had an accident on her way here. She wouldn’t make it to the contest. Having won second place in our elimination you ought to substitute for her. You will be our contestant for the extemporaneous speech. The officers of the event allowed it.”

I was dumbfounded…speechless! She talked fast as if not wanting to give me the opportunity to say no. That’s vintage Mrs. Simon… direct to the point, firm and wouldn’t take NO for an answer. No ifs, no buts. I didn’t know what to say then. I was worried about the fact that I’m joining a competition in so short a notice…but I was more worried about Athena.

“The contest starts in less than two hours. Do this not for yourself, not even for the school. Do this for your friend Athena. PLEASE!” Mrs. Simon implored.

I accepted the challenge and started preparing mentally. It’s good that I was familiar with the criteria for judging and the theme was the same one we used for our school competition. The only problem was the specific topic.

When Ms. Cruz, Athena’s coach arrived, we had a discussion about the contest rules and the possible specific topics the judges might give.

Then finally, the contest started. And as if having only less than two hours to prepare is not challenging enough, I even picked no. 1 in the drawing of lots making me the first contestant.

In a room adjacent to the contest venue, I was handed a piece of paper containing the specific topic written in a question form.

“What can you do to make Philippines a better nation?”

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed. That’s not one of the the possible questions I practised with Ms. Cruz.

I had three minutes to prepare my speech…three minutes to think of how can I make my country better. Are the judges kidding me? They are giving me just a few minutes to solve the problems that bedeviled this nation for God knows how long.

Look! How many presidents took turns in running the show in Malacañang? How many years did each of them have to make this nation great? Did they succeed? NOOO!!! And here are the judges asking me to perform a miracle… make Philippines a great nation… and I only have what… 3 minutes!!! Those presidents even had the help of the honorable senators and congressmen and here I am…just an ordinary boy… by my lonesome! What can I do?

Wait…wait…! Calm down Christian….calm down…this is just a contest…take the competition seriously and not the question…it’s only a question…it’s hypothetical. Don’t take it personal! Take a deep breath. Come on! Inhale….exhale…

I want to stop the hands of time. Every movement of the minute hand is like a knife slicing my mind, shredding to pieces my composure.

Until the last few seconds, nothing came out my mind. Then Ms. Cruz came telling me it’s time. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Dear Lord, please help me.”

Deliberately that I walked slowly towards the next room. Then I passed by one student standing on the hallway his head swaying to the music he’s playing on his cell phone. I know the song. It’s Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror.” Then that part of the song I heard as I passed by the student was like electricity that lightened a bulb in my head.

That was one of my “aha moments.” God heard my plea.

“I am but a young man. Still struggling to get an education. I don’t have much to give… no brilliant ideas to share… to make Philippines a better nation. I don’t have the power, the money, the influence to make any meaningful contributions in our society. But there is one thing I can do that might just be what this nation needs. In one of his songs, the king of Pop, the late Michael Jackson, said that if I want to make this world a better place, I have to take a look at myself then make a change. That exactly is what I intend to do. I cannot change the system of our government. I cannot change your ways of thinking and of doing things. I cannot change you…but I can change me. I have the power to transform me. I can change my attitude in life. I can change my perspectives. I can be the best me. If only each of us can change for the better, Philippines might be a better nation.”

That I supposed was the best part of my 3-minute speech. I did not stay in the contest venue after I delivered my impromptu speech. I went out and proceeded immediately to the hospital where Athena was confined. I was happy to see her sustaining just minor injuries.

While in the hospital, I got a call from Mrs. Simon informing me of the results of the contest. Guess what! NO! I did not win 1st place. I was again a runner-up. At least, along with the winner, I will represent the district in the provincial competition.

Anyway, winning the contest was not the great news I wanted to have that day… it is knowing that my friend Athena is okay after the accident.

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