Last fall, I was nominated by one of my professors for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership. According to the Technical College System of Georgia:
First launched in 1971, GOAL focuses on student excellence in technical education by focusing on academic excellence and personal achievement. A panel of judges selects one student, the state GOAL Winner, to serve as an ambassador of technical education in Georgia.
GOAL winners represent the “new image” of Georgia’s technical colleges. Students must recognize technical education’s critical impact on Georgia’s overall economic health, have a strong work ethic, a dedicated sense of loyalty, and a healthy enthusiasm for promoting technical education in Georgia.
GOAL winners are the best possible advertisement for technical education. They prove every day that the best technical education consists of more than manipulative skills. Technical education prepares us for the world of work. GOAL students are an indication of what technical education at its best can achieve and of the caliber of individuals who are choosing Georgia’s technical colleges.
The winning GOAL student serves as an ambassador for technical education in Georgia and makes many public appearances throughout the year including addresses to the Georgia General Assembly, Governor and TCSG’s Student Fall Leadership Conference to name a few.
34 of the 4,000 students at Georgia Piedmont Technical College were nominated for the 2015 GOAL award, which can most easily be described as Student of the Year. I was honored, but I was also nominated with at least two of my classmates who I felt had a much better chance of winning this award.
The process started with an early-morning interview before a panel of five faculty and staff members of GPTC. I had three minutes to tell them—with no note cards or visual displays that weren't permanently attached to my body—who I was, why I had chosen technical education, and how it was impacting my life and my life goals.
If you've ever spoken with me in person, you know that I talk a lot, I talk very quickly, and I tend to gesticulate wildly while speaking. More than one boyfriend has been nailed in the jaw when they ventured too close to the Exotic Wild Glamazon while she was hyper-excited about the influence of Greek mythology on the DC comic book universe... or shoes. So it took a practice session with my professors and others to help hone my speech for both content and style.
Something stuck, though, because I made it to the second round of interviews, which meant I'd placed in the Top 10, along with my two classmates and seven other very talented, deserving students.
The second interview was just after Thanksgiving, by which time I was sick with an upper respiratory thing that we later realized was likely Whooping Cough. I appeared before the selection committee, a panel comprised of local business leaders and last year's GOAL winner for GPTC. To make sure I didn't start coughing on anyone, I loaded up on cough medicine and my inhaler.
Three more minutes.
During this three minutes, being so loaded on cold medicine, I think I told them who I was, why I had chosen technical education, how it was impacting my life and my life goals, a brief history of my children, what I'd had for breakfast, and as much as I could about the influence of Greek mythology on the DC comic universe.
I might have discussed my shoes.
But, again, something stuck. I was named to the Top 4 finalists. I was the only student from Paralegal Studies to make it that far, and I was thrilled to be able to represent my department. Now I had to wait over a month to find out who actually won GOAL for 2015, but I was offered a table for 8 at the awards luncheon on January 22nd.
I know I'm smart. I know Queen Frostine was right in pointing me toward being a paralegal. It is an excellent fit for my skillset, and I am thus far very good at what I do. That's really very difficult for me to say, as I discussed prior to the GOAL competition. It feels strange to me to openly discuss my accomplishments, as if I should be far more modest about what I've done.
But even with everything I've worked so hard to do over the last year and more, I honestly didn't believe I had any real chance to win this competition. The school GOAL winner goes on to compete at regionals in March, and the top placers at regionals compete at a state level in April. The state winner spends a year traveling Georgia and speaking as an advocate for technical education, which includes appearances at the 25 technical colleges in the system and addresses to the Georgia General Assembly, the Governor, and the Technical College System of Georgia Leadership Conference. (To help facilitate this, the state winner also gets a new car.) So the winner effectively acts as an advocate for technical education.
They have to be able to tell people their story and exactly how and why technical education is working for them, how and why it can and should work for others.
I have very well-developed thoughts about technical education, with a ton of data to back it up, but I will save that for a future post. I don't want to give away Glamazon trade secrets, and I need to protect my work product as I move forward into the next round of competition, because I won.
No one was more surprised than I was. According to my mom and stepdad and dad who'd all driven over from Alabama for the luncheon, plus Rango and the boys who were there, and my classmates and my professors, no one but me was surprised I won.
Mom hates that she didn't have her camera trained on my face when they announced my name. My mouth and eyes flew open. I had even whispered to Rango just seconds before that I thought the winner was a finalist from the Criminal Justice department.
I was wrong. Wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong <insert wild, accidental whacking of my son>
The GOAL coordinator had told the finalists to prepare a short speech of acceptance. I'd made a mental note of who to thank if it happened, but I didn't expect to win. I had to wing it, but apparently I did okay. People were nodding and clapping. I didn't throw up or fall down.
Lots of hand-shaking, lots of nodding and thanking people whose names I hope I don't forget, and lots of smiling until my face hurt. But I won. I worked my ass off for this, and I continue to do so every day, with a 15-hour class load this semester including my internship at the ACLU of Georgia, which puts me at the state Capitol at least one day a week to speak with legislators directly about proposed legislation and how it would directly impact me and other Georgians.
Me. I get to do that. I get to make a difference in my world and someone else's.
I've worked so hard. So very, very hard. I have faltered at times, and I have wanted to quit, so sure that I just couldn't scale the daunting mountain of work that was before me. It can be exhausting, and it often keeps me from the boys and Rango when I want nothing more than to curl up on the couch with them and binge watch Netflix.
Now I'm six months away from finishing my associate's degree, and I should graduate with honors. I won a $26,500 scholarship to finish my bachelor's degree.
So, for once, I'm going to say something I rarely do: I did good.
I'm taking a moment to congratulate myself and recognize that I am doing a good job, no matter how hard it is sometimes. It may or may not ever get any easier, but there is more reward than just knowing I worked hard. There is knowing that I worked right, that I worked well, that I am worth this reward.