Ok, it was not the presentation I originally envisioned. While it was nobody’s fault, and, in reality, was another example of the sheer strength of the person we were honoring, it still was not the most desirable way to conclude the brief appearance.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
I was scheduled today, along with Florida business and regulatory legend Ray Neff, to present a $10,000 Kids’ Chance scholarship at the opening session of the 72nd Annual WCI Conference in Orlando, FL. The recipient, whom I shall not name to protect her dignity, came to Orlando with her family to participate in this very auspicious event. I had not had the opportunity to meet this amazing young woman, so this was a very exciting day for me and the Kids’ Chance Board members and volunteers in attendance.
To set the stage, let me tell you about this young lady.
Her father was injured on the job over ten years ago. A failed back surgery compounded his injury and left him in permanent pain and unable to work. He has been unable to get social security disability, and receives no workers’ comp payments. The family of four lives on the very modest salary of her mother. She is a first generation American. She is the first generation in her family to attend college. She works part time to help support her family. She volunteers with a migrant education program, helping to educate and translate for kids who are less fortunate than she is. She volunteers at her church. She graduated with a cumulative GPA of 5.5, and was 10th in her class of 676. Oh, yeah, she also took advanced placement and dual enrollment courses starting in the 9th grade, and earned her Associates Degree from Indian River State College at the same time she graduated from High School. She plans to be an Orthopedic Surgeon.
Impressed yet? You should be.
She arrived Monday morning at the Orlando Marriott World Center, with her mother, father and little brother. Her family was warm and welcoming, and you immediately felt at home in their company. Her mother told me she was concerned, as her daughter had been in the hospital for several days due to kidney stones. She still had a fever and did not feel at all well, but she insisted on appearing and supporting the organization that was helping her achieve her educational dreams. As it turns out that sickness was just another display of this inspiring young woman’s strength and resolve.
The opening session was a routine affair, with many thank you’s and recaps of what is new at the conference this year. Near the end, several non-profit groups were allotted time to present their issues and awards. Kids’ Chance of Florida would be the last presenters in the group.
It started out quite well. Ray Neff said a few words about all the volunteers that help the conference run so well. I then spoke about Kids’ Chance of Florida; thanking all the people and organizations that are making us a success. I spoke of our awarding 9 scholarships worth $33,000 this year, after just 18th months of operation. I informed the audience we had also purchased 3 pre-paid tuition plans, two for use in future years for as yet un-named recipients who don’t yet know their college will be paid for. Then I spoke of the incredible strength and resolve of the kids’ we see coming into the Kids’ Chance system. I expressed how they had all overcome incredible challenges and personal tragedy, and were making the most of their lives in a very impressive way. I introduced our recipient as “Exhibit A” for the evidence of my argument.
It was as I was extolling her virtues (previously covered in this article), that I began to sense that something was going terribly awry. As I prattled away to the 800-900 people in the room, I suddenly became aware of our recipient grabbing my right arm. I looked down and paused, as she pressed her diminutive frame against me and whispered. “I’m going to throw up.”
My first instinct was to tell her that “I get that a lot”, as young women throwing up when I speak is not an unknown occurrence. But I quickly realized that we were in a serious situation here, and would be wrapping up much more quickly than I had anticipated.
What I would find out later was that the audience was in on the problem much earlier than I was. As I spoke I had been looking at the audience. They, in turn, were looking at the dual 20-foot video screens set up to show the speakers in detail to the very large room. While I was prattling on about Kids’ Chance, the audience, I would later learn, was watching our poor recipient turn green and physically fight the obvious physical machinations of the body wanting to expel something it no longer wished to maintain. The display of her struggle actually caused audible gasps throughout the crowd. A social media manager for a large TPA later told me it was “a moment that will go down in WCI lore.” Boy, was I lucky to be part of it. Knowing my luck, someone probably got a doozy of a picture.
What the audience may not realize was how strong this young woman was actually being.
After her declaration, I quickly explained that she had not been feeling well, and hastily presented her with her scholarship certificate (I really don’t remember what I said after that point). I expected her to either run for the exit or ruin my shoes, but she did neither. The conference photographer, who may not have caught the full gist of what was happening, stopped her for some quick photos. She obliged by opening and posing with the full scholarship certificate. After that, assisted by her mother, she made her way to the back of the very large hall. I followed them, and the three of us exited the room and headed the relatively long distance to the ladies room. I waited outside while the two of them went inside, where she did indeed get sick to her stomach.
I frankly cannot believe she held it off that long. If it had been me in her shoes, I would’ve been cutting loose the moment the feeling came over me. It would have been a real “Stand by Me” moment, and Kids’ Chance would probably never again be invited back to WCI.
But this girl stood firm for several minutes. She insisted on coming to the event despite great physical distress, and she fought off the culmination of that effort for as long as she needed to.
I left that event even more impressed than I had been going in. We made a great choice in the selection of this candidate, and she demonstrated both commitment and class in unbearable circumstances.
It turns out you can learn things when your speaking skills make a young girl hurl.