This I Believe

Leah - Allison Park, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 1, 2006
Age Group: Under 18
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I believe in the power of the spoken word.

In the summer of 1999, when I was ten years old, my family moved to a small town in the south of France. That fall, I was immersed in French when I enrolled in the local public school. Not a soul there spoke my language, and I did not yet know theirs. Communication, therefore, was difficult, if not impossible. For the first few weeks of school, I was frightened, uncomfortable, and bored.

With youth on my side, I learned the language in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I effortlessly amassed a rich vocabulary and quickly lost my American twang. As the formerly foreign words rolled off my tongue, I became capable of self-expression.

My newfound ability to speak illuminated the world around me. I became, at long last, an active participant in society. I interacted at restaurants and businesses. I cheered for the hometown soccer team without hesitation. I even convinced the local soccer league to let me, a girl, join the all-male team.

Then, as now, my voice wielded tremendous power. Today I compete in high school Speech and Debate and am therefore acutely aware of the clout that the right words, the perfect words, carry with them. I regularly witness the power of speech to persuade, to excite, and to move. As a student and a debater, I have learned that JFK was “Ein Berliner” for a day, but a hero for a lifetime. I have learned that Dr. King had long had a dream, but that he had to articulate it for the world to share it with him.

In the address that President Kennedy was never able to deliver, he planned to tell America, “Words alone are not enough.” Certainly, words alone are no substitute for action. However, the right words, the perfect words, those words that move or call for action, fuel every fierce fire. As Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie said of the Holocaust, “it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, and the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

In my last summer as a high school student, I learned the language of science. At the research facility where I worked, I saw bright young minds from all around the world struggle to communicate in English. As they toiled away feverishly in pursuit of scientific breakthrough, their language barrier remained.

Witnessing their experience was a vivid reminder of my first few months in France. I had forgotten how difficult it was to lose, but how empowering it was to rediscover, my voice. My immediate future holds many challenges – turning eighteen, applying to college, moving away from home. Yet, I have no fears about the unknown: I have the limitless power of the spoken word to guide me.