Press On - by Helen Alvarado

posted Apr 3, 2011, 7:39 AM by Tip Top
Placed 2nd at Area 14 Spring Contest, 2011

Press On!

This is unbelievable.  Not even in my wildest dream could I have imagined that I would be standing up here, competing in the Area Speech Contest. And speaking in English!
I am going to tell you about the journey that has brought me here. Then, you will understand why this event is such an incredible experience for me.
I grew up in a small town in China. When I started middle school in the 1980’s, China had already opened the door to western investors. English was taught in most middle and high schools. But, my home town school was too small and poor that we did not have an English teacher.

Three years later, when I started high school, we finally got an English teacher. But by then our English level was far behind other Chinese students. At the same time, we had to face a new obstacle; the whole country’s education system was in reform and most high schools changed from 2-year-high-schools to 3-year-high-schools. Again unfortunately, our school was too poor to change.  Which means, for a chance to get into college, we had to finish 3-year-high-school textbooks in 2 years and compete with 3-year-high-school students in the National College Entrance Examination!  But back then, college acceptance rate in China was only 5 percent out of millions of applicants.

The competition was fierce. I recall my two years in high school.  Every day was about studying.  From the time I got up at 6 in the morning to 11 at night, I spent most of my time in class room. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were always eaten quickly, in about ten minutes each.  Even now I still have hard time to slow down when I eat.

But the hard work did pay off. I was admitted to college. When I got there, I learned that among the 40 college classmates, I was the only student from a 2-year-high-school, which made me the youngest one in the class. I was 17. I also learned that among them my National English Exam score was number one, from the bottom.

Being the lowest scorer of all my classmates, I felt complete doubt about my ability in the subject of English. Each time I attended English class, I felt nervous, frustrated and embarrassed.  Because sometimes I couldn’t even figure out which line or which page the instructor was referring to. So, I always put my head down as low as possible to avoid the instructor calling my name.

However, all the frustration and embarrassment didn’t stop me from learning English. It made me more eager to learn and to overcome it. And that eagerness never waned since then.  When I graduated from college, my English was at the top ten in the class.  Years later, when I was admitted to the top-ranked Tsinghua University for my Master’s degree, I brought my English to a new level; years later, when I passed the TOEFL and GRE and was admitted by SMU, I came here – the land of the free and I brought my English to another new level; years later, I joined Toastmasters.  I know it will help bring my English to a new level again. This is where I am now, which I never dreamed could be possible.

Where am I really?  I can’t follow a movie if I don’t turn on subtitles. I feel a five year old kid speaks much better English than me. I can’t enjoy a piece of beautiful literature because there are too many new words for me. I know where I am, I know how much is still in front of me, and I know I can’t embrace all that’s here in this country until English has become like my native tongue.

Fellow Toastmasters, we all face challenges. Maybe you feel you are so tired, maybe you feel it is just too hard for you, or maybe you feel that all your effort is a waste of time. However whatever you feel, please don’t stop pursuing your goal. Let’s press on, because where you start is not important, but where you finish really matters; let’s press on, because we can do anything we want to do if we hold on to it long enough; let’s press on, because it is not luck, not talent, and not even education, but persistence, that brings us to success!  Press on!