Public-speaking - Reflections of a Young Man™

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As some of my friends can testify, I have always been interested in public speaking ever since I enrolled at Starehe Boys' Centre where I gave speeches right from my first year till my last. And like wine, I got better with time. I particularly enjoyed delivering my last speech at the school in which I challenged the students to think like geniuses after I got inspired by Todd Siler's monumental book, Think Like a Genius. Some students were so impressed with the speech that they started talking about it as if I had announced a cure for AIDS.

Unfortunately, I haven't had any public speaking opportunities since I left Starehe. And I find it unwise to deliver speeches to people who are leading better lives than me. That's like a tortoise instructing an antelope on how to outrun a cheetah.

Nonetheless, I have tried to create public speaking opportunities for myself in church, not by preaching but by expressing my concerns and perspectives. Like I once gave an ear-binding speech to choir members at Nairobi's All Saints Cathedral in which I spoke of how I am inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus; of how it is important to be happy in life; and of how I needed their support as I strove to attain my dreams. I finished my speech by asking them to be patient with me because God was not finished with me yet.

I also created a public-speaking opportunity by visiting Starehe Boys' Centre in early 2012 to give success tips to the students because I felt that was the only audience to which I could preach to by virtue of having experienced the world more than they had. Actually, I borrowed the success tips from an inspiring speech that was delivered to high school students by Gerry Sikorski who served as a US senator in the '80s. Okay, let me enumerate the success tips that I passed on to Starehe students.

First, I told them that they had to be absolutely determined to enjoy what they did if they are to succeed in life because no one has ever succeeded at something he or she hated. Secondly, I told them not to be afraid of failing. And if they happened to fail, they should learn from it and move on.

Thirdly, I told them never to give up on anybody because people do really change. Like the student who hardly ever talks in class may become a government spokesman some day. Or the student who hardly ever converses with girls during school functions may end up marrying a remarkably beautiful and sophisticated lady. Or the student who drops Physics in junior high school may come up with ground-breaking ideas in Nuclear and Atomic Physics!

Fourthly, I asked them to remember their family, relatives and friends wherever they will be in life because true friends are valuable in tough times. Fifthly, I asked them to trust their instincts even when the instincts insist on breaking conventions. I gave an example of how an advertising agency became one of the fastest-growing companies by creating adverts that broke conventional wisdom. And finally, I told them never to give up on themselves.

Then I challenged them that if the oppressed are to be freed, it will be because our generation gives us people like Martin Luther Jr. who faced police dogs because he believed injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

That if the hungry are to be fed, it will be because our generation gives us people like Harry Chapin who devoted the last years of his short life not to the riches he could accrue for himself as a singer, but to showing the world of how people were suffering from starvation in Africa.

That if the world's resources are to be preserved, it will because our generation gives us people like Wangari Maathai who confronted a dictatorial regime to expose the destruction of natural resources.

I concluded my speech by asking the students to have a vision in life. And I ended it by reciting this magnificent quote by John Steinback:
"I see us not in the setting sun of a dark night of despair ahead. I see us in the crimson light of a rising sun, fresh from the burning, creative hand of God. I see great days ahead. Great days made possible by men [and women] of will and vision."
That speech impacted me more than it did for those students who listened to me because I have found myself trying to live by what I said. My prayer is that I get opportunities to give better and more original speeches in the future. So help me God.


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In Search of Freedom

When I withdrew from classes at JKUAT as well as from church activities sometime in 2008, I spent a lot of my time alone in the university library where I became totally careless in my reading; careless in the sense that I read books without following any institution's syllabus. Like I read about the history of Japan and about the development of the Swahili language. And I also read a book about the value of reading.

I also tried to read the Bible from preface to index. Though I found most its books mired with many difficult-to-understand details, I identified with the fate of the Israelites who spent their time in bondage as narrated in the Book of Exodus. I felt like I too was in bondage because I was studying an engineering course that I found abstruse, couldn't be at ease with people, didn't have opportunities to travel and occasionally suffered from hatred, guilt as well as jealousy. Like I was regularly jealous of the success Barack Obama was having in America which I thought I was the one who deserved it.

To try delivering myself from that bondage, I spent some days in Nairobi roaming in the streets even at night. It was in some of those roaming episodes that I got to see prostitutes at work in their seductive, scanty attires. Some of them looked like mothers - the kind that I had been taught in school to trust and obey. Others looked young, innocent and beautiful - the kind that I would naturally want to ask out for a date. But even though I did admire their bodies, I am thankful to God that I never became one of their customers.

As I continued with this search for freedom, I found myself stopped to a halt by university authorities who thought I was sick. They forcefully rounded me up to hospitals where I was put on medication. And they started instructing me on what to do with my life. But through studying, praying and humility, I can now proudly proclaim that I am feeling freedom creeping into my life.

To be free is the best thing to be on earth. That's why President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an address to the US congress in 1941, said, "...we look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression... The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way... The third is freedom from want... The fourth is freedom from fear."


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Competing Only With Myself

To be honest, there were times I found it hard to stop envying others in this increasingly competitive world. I wondered how it came that some age-mates who were less brighter than me in school had achieved success that eluded me like getting engaged, meeting famous people, owning cars and flying abroad. That envy became too much that I had to go in exile from Facebook where my friends were showcasing their success.

Of late though, I have successfully managed to discipline myself to compare and compete only with the person I was yesterday. And what kind of a person was I yesterday?

Broadly speaking, I can classify my past life in three phases. The first phase covers my first twenty years in which I used to live an ordinary life of waking up early everyday mostly to attend school. My only limitations in that phase were confusion and poor social skills that people saw in me. Imagine I would get attracted to girls but never summon enough courage to talk to them!

I remember one Sunday afternoon in 2006 during a church youth group meeting when I was reading an international news magazine thinking I was impressing others only to overhear a youth group member named Cyrus remark to another, "There are people in this world who read a lot but can't socialize and get along well with others." Cyrus didn't mention my name but I instantly knew I was the target of his criticism. That's how socially undeveloped I was in my first life phase.

The second phase of my life began some time in 2008 after I was rejected by all the elite American colleges I applied to: Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT. Those rejections destabilized my life and made me realize that life was not only about books but also confidence and freedom.

Regarding my third phase in life, I have began it now. From this point onwards, I will strive to project a victorious attitude. I will strive to radiate a hopeful, expectant and cheerful countenance even in the face of failure, criticism, disappointment or discouragement. Hopefully by so doing, I will be able to attract the success I desire.

In summary, I led an ordinary life in the first phase of my life. Then came the rejections from American Colleges that transited me to the second phase characterized by constant struggle with life. And now, I am transiting to a third phase of extraordinary life. As you can see, I am comparing and competing only with the person I was yesterday. So help me God.


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