All of my life I have been fortunate enough to learn and grow under the direction and tutelage of mentors.  The old adage “it takes a village” was no truer than in my very own story.  Countless quotes, wise words, and modeled examples of those who took an interest in me have been a cornerstone in my development.

Perhaps no more pivotal of a mentorship arrived, at no more pivotal of a time then when I arrived as a well-starched embodiment of thirteen-year old nervousness, at my new middle school and met my new principal – a confident and charismatic woman that would not only serve as my school leader, but as a personal mentor and  additional mother-figure from then, on.  Over those next two years, she would take both a professional and personal interest in equipping and strengthening me for whatever she believed I could become (neither of us knowing at the time that I would become a teacher at that very same institution a decade later).

Among the jewels she would drop was a tidbit on how to address crowds and individuals when speaking and interacting. “Remember to speak with clarity and confidence,” is what she would say just before sending me off to be great somewhere.

While there is no way I can count the number of times we would share this line throughout the years, predictably, its full depth and value would take much longer to resonate…

While writing about the connection between language and its relation to the self, researcher and linguist James Paul Gee wrote that discourse is more than how we listen, speak, and deliver. Gee describes discourse as “an identity kit…a way of saying-writing-doing-being-valuing-believing…”.

If you buy the idea that the way we listen, speak, and deliver ourselves has an inherent, synergistic connection to who and how we craft and define ourselves as whole individuals – as I do – then you can buy that what my principal was doing was more than drilling public-speaking and engagement techniques into my memory – she was, in fact, ingraining major keys to self-realization, self-actualization, and bridge building.  Here’s how…

CLARITY – the quality of being clear.  

In a world of ever-changing agendas, intentionally-slippery language, Machiavellian chameleon tactics, and opting for ambiguity for fear, convenience, or exploitation’s sake, remaining clear and direct in what you mean and how you feel is a valued rarity. Consistent lack of clarity has a two-folded suggestion:

1) one’s inability to make and maintain a decision or

2) an intentional decision to remain ambiguous for questionable or shaky purposes.

Regardless of reasoning, being someone who avoids candor will always keep your reliability under suspicion.  In being both a leader and an individual of integrity, you should never leave your counterparts unsure of where you stand; whether they meet your opinion with agreement or agitation, knowing that you are consistently clear commands a respect and influences a trust that both override the matters of any one moment.

CONFIDENCE – the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something.

The power of belief is a real thing.  Whether you are “wrong and strong” or “right with might”, it is your conviction and dedication to what you are saying/doing that will resonate the loudest with onlookers, collaborators, partners, and constituents. Whatever your message or movement is, people will not draw trust in it if they are not first convinced that you are indeed confident, assured, and passionate about it, especially as it typically takes longer to determine one’s understanding of a concept than it does to determine one’s trust in the person presenting it. This means full commitment and investment in your purpose. This means having and exuding a faith in self that not only invites but inspires.

So, when my principal – or, “Duke”, as I affectionately refer to her – was telling me to speak with clarity and confidence, she was doing more than trying to craft a starry-eyed child into an orator; she knew, as compounded by James Paul Gee, that speech and movement were reflections of being, and that being anyone the world could rely on meant being clear, being consistent, being bold, and being sure.

This piece is written in dedication to Duke, educators, and women all over the world that breathe life into ones like myself who could not have known the magnitude of our own capabilities unless otherwise fostered by someone who cared enough to invest in us.

To Duke and all the other “Dukes” of the world, I, on behalf of myself and others equally as blessed, say thank you.

We are all fortunate that you all believed in a dream.