One of the things I did during the first month of my time in India was not only finding my way around, find a place to live, and figure out how to get to work on time— I was also asked to speak at a local private school in Chennai to talk about the importance of an arts education and the positive impact of the arts on education.
It was one of the most interesting experiences I ever had at any school I’ve ever been in. For a week or so, the principal and headmaster of the school and I exchanged e-mails about the speech I would give and expectations, but nothing could prepare me for the reception I received upon arriving at the school.
I was picked up from my apartment and driven to the school by an art teacher and her husband. They were so warm and friendly and had a million questions about why I was in India, what the Fulbright was, how I was enjoying my stay, and of course art. We arrived at the school and there was a band, a videographer, and a photographer. Apparently, I was the chief guest, and they were doing everything possible to make me feel that way. Flowers, cards, chocolates. It then dawned on me that this was an important night for them. It was a yearly event to celebrate the accomplishments of the students, teachers and parents. -gulp-
At first they led me to an office to sit until everyone was seated, and then I was whisked to the stage facing professional lights and about 3,000 people. This is what I signed up for? Clearly there was something much more important about to happen? The nerves set it, but then I remembered; I was prepared, had something written down, and I was ready to speak.
There were many short speeches, and introductions, and welcome speeches, and of course many speakers naming the many accomplishments of the students and teachers– and then came me. I was given a nice introduction by one of the students, I got up– and spoke. I was doing great, until the smoke machine was turned on. I was speaking clearly, calmly and professionally– and then- BAM – the coughing began. At this point I was only about 1/2 way done, and the coughing would not stop. I had never been so happy to end a speech. A person even rushed up to give me a bottle of water.
So, it turned out it wasn’t my nervousness, it wasn’t all the people distracting me, or the lights and cameras– it was the smoke machine. I blame the smoke machine.
After my catastrophe — I mean speech – I was still allowed to stay, and gave out many awards and shook lots of hands to hundreds of kids at the school.
But wait! There was more. A whole show. A school show featuring almost every single student in the school, with dancing, singing, and even some acting. Here are a few highlights:
I’m not going to lie, it was a long show to sit through. But you can see how much the students enjoyed performing. They worked together to produce pieces that the audience would enjoy– and you can definitely tell by listening to the audience that it was.