Toastmasters Speech #6

Title: Courage

Delivered on February 27, 2018


“Courage. It couldn’t come at a worst time”

Gord Downie

I have entered the twilight of my teaching career.

At forty-five years of age, I’m four years removed from early retirement, and not because I’m tired or hate the kids. I’ve never had more energy and the kids are alright!  

I feel a tug in a new direction.

Looking back, I have many stories.

  • I could tell you about the young man who decided to duck-tape his entire body for Halloween, not realizing that it’s a good idea to let your skin breathe, nor did he bring a change of clothes. Once the paramedics managed to peel the tape off of him, he didn’t leave much to the imagination.
  • I could tell you about another student who might or might not have been a ‘herbologist’ and may or may not have misunderstood the word ‘duet’, as in the duet between Elton John and Billy Joel, and loudly informed the class the he wanted to do it with Shania Twain.
  • I could tell you about the young man who was most proud of his love poem which professed undying love for the girl of his dreams. He did incidentally ask me to make him 25 copies, and I did, because I loved the title. It read “I lick you very much”

But what I want to speak to you about today is the value of human tears, the courage to suffer, and the meaning of human suffering.,

It was my first-year teaching. My very first semester. The last period of the day.

I still remember the smell of that musty portable. I remember the ugly beige walls, not to mention the ugly lighting

Most of all, I remember all the students and one in particular.

I will never forget the face of the young woman who taught me about courage.

Courage. When it comes at the worst time.

I really enjoyed this particular class. The kids were great, and they took my lead and fell in love with poetry.

The worked really hard on their poems.

They were excited and in turn I was excited.

There is only one way to properly finish a good poetry unit and that is with a proper poetry reading.

It took us two full days.

We killed the ugly florescent lighting and nature cooperated by giving us some beautiful sunlight. I brought a large candle to help focus everyone’s attention.

The mood was set.

Clapping was banned, and I instituted the much cooler poetry snap.

Students came up one by one and read their favourite collection of poems.

The day was perfect, and a young girl came up and everything changed.

She read a few of her poems flawlessly but when she began to read her last one, she got choked up, and started to cry.

She stopped.

We all wanted to hide.

She started again, only to stop, eyes full of tears, unable to finish.

It was the end of the day and I reassured her that all was ok. The bell rang, and all was good in the world again.

I wasn’t sure what happened, I didn’t fear the weeper, but I was glad it was over.

The next day, we continued with our poetry readings, and when everyone was done, the same young lady came up and begged if she could try again.

I couldn’t refuse. How could I?

She began to read her poem and she broke down again. A third time. She was almost ready to give up, but she composed herself, she found her courage, and read us a very sad, but a very moving poem.

I thought about her courage for a whole week. I have been thinking about her tears and about her pain for many years.

It took about a week, but I finally summoned the courage to ask her what happened. I needed to know why she cried, and why she felt that she desperately needed to read her poem.

She told me she wrote the poem for her brother. Her little brother, who had died in a tragic accident a year earlier.

She told me that her life had returned to normal. The funeral was tough, and her brother’s death was tough on her whole family, but eventually, the laughter returned, and life resumed its usual uneventful pace.

She told me she needed to find the courage to read the poem out loud because she didn’t want to let her brother down. She wanted him to exist outside her thoughts.

What was even more fascinating was that she embraced and even loved her tears. She was a bit embarrassed, but she loved her tears because they made her feel so very close to her brother, which her mind was beginning to forget.

For a moment, she told me, it felt like he was alive again.

So when I hear the word courage, I automatically think of this young girl and I see her tears.

I think about how much power there is in human tears. Tears of joy. Tears of sadness.

How much power there is in our ability to let go and cry.

I think we shy away from our tears. We deny an important part of our human nature. We think women cry too much and think that men don’t cry enough.

Perhaps we would see our tears differently if we could see them as messengers of courage.


Don’t forget about how powerful it is to cry and don’t hide your tears.

Fight your natural instinct to stop others from crying.

Sometimes it is good and necessary to cry.

Allow me to conclude with words from a man and a book that has changed my life.

Dr. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and a survivor of Hitler’s most notorious concentration camp in Auschwitz. He lost his wife, his brother, and his parents. He lost everything that was dear to him.

You have my permission to forget everything I’ve said here, but I want you the words Dr. Frankl wrote in his memoir Man’s Search For Meaning.

There was no need to be ashamed of tears,

For tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage,

The courage to suffer.

I wish you much tears and courage.

Tears and courage that couldn’t happen at a worst time.