People in my dorm last year told me that they could hear me talking from two floors down. If someone really gets me going, I’m almost embarrassed at how loudly I can laugh. I was voted “Most Likely to Rally” at my dorm’s end-of-the-year banquet back in June. My mom still has to remind me to lower my voice at the table every time we’re at a restaurant. And yet, despite my tendency to speak just a little too loudly within my immediate circles, there is one place where, for years now, I have struggled to make my voice live up to its reputation — the classroom.
I’m pretty sure this discrepancy began when I was in fifth grade. I’ll never forget the time my fifth grade math teacher sent a note to my mom expressing concern about me because I never laughed at his jokes in class and rarely spoke up during the lessons. To my mother, who was accustomed to my mouth moving a mile a minute at home, this came as quite the surprise.
I don’t know if I would necessarily call myself shy, as I greatly enjoy social interactions, even larger ones like parties, as long as I’m accompanied by people I know. But if you plop me down in the middle of a large, unfamiliar group, then suddenly I clam up. So, yes, on top of the aforementioned comments about my being too loud on occasion, I did also go through much of my life with unfamiliar acquaintances saying, “You’re so quiet” or “You never talk.” As annoying as such unnecessary comments were, they never really bothered me because it’s not like those people ever put in the effort to get to know me anyway.
But when l I step into the classroom, I begin to kick myself for my lack of involvement in large discussions. It’s not that I’m lazy or that I have no desire to add anything. In fact, I thoroughly read and annotate all assignments beforehand just to make sure I don’t feel lost — in case maybe, just maybe, that next class will the time that I finally gather the courage to release all of the words rising in the back of my throat.
In high school, my occasional comments satisfied my teachers as long as I kept up my performance on other assessments. In college, on the other hand, participation in section is often required and graded. During my freshman year, this was the bane of my existence, and I found it difficult to break out of the quieter role that I was used to taking on in my classes. I had a constant desire for the safe haven of lectures, where I could sit back quietly and listen, faceless in the rows of many.
“Just do it! Just participate,” some would say. “It’s not hard,” others would follow. Easier said than done, I wish I could just do it. I wish that it weren’t so hard. But I feel my stomach churn and my heart pound every time I get ready to raise my hand and interject.
This quarter, I’m determined to change. I can’t lie — I’m not off to the best start. However, I would like to chalk that up to the new year jitters. I’m still settling into being a sophomore. This week, I’m prepared to slowly but surely break out of my shell.
Given that a large part of my uneasiness with participating comes from a fear of saying something stupid or wrong, I guess I need to start with having greater faith in my comments. And if I’m wrong, who cares? The classroom is for learning anyway. I will remind myself of that daily. I will start small, a couple of comments here and there. Hopefully, by the end of the quarter — or at least by the end of this year — I will have become one of the people that I secretly envy for how easily the task seems to come to them.
Gone are the days of losing my voice as soon as I step outside of my comfort zone. This is a personal goal that I have every intention of reaching. “Just do it?” I will. But not because someone else told me to.
Contact Kassidy Kelley at kckelley ‘at’ stanford.edu.