I looked around the huge hall at all the faces I didn't recognize. It was way too early in the morning to deal with this social anxiety. I had taken a seat at a pretty empty table but as time went on, the table filled up with chatting friends. I picked up my small styrofoam cup filled with black coffee and brought it to my lips. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but I already felt like it was noon. I began picking at one of the two mini bagels (don't judge) I had on my plate as I waited for the keynote speaker.
Today was the day I presented my thesis at my university's research day. I was used to public speaking, and I had presented two years ago when I was an undergraduate, but I was still nervous. I really just wanted the day to be over.
I found myself back in that same hall a few hours later feeling a lot better. There was another speech I had to sit through, followed by awards, but my job was over. Plus, there were now sandwiches being given out where the bagels had been.
Beside the clicker not working for my Power Point, forcing me to nod at someone standing at the back of the room every time I wanted to change slides which was far from a flawless system, my presentation had went pretty well. I discussed my research, which basically looked at all the different technology platforms individuals use in present day society and the influence these may or may not have on our romantic relationships, before taking a few questions. I was mostly worried about those, because questions can be so unpredictable as opposed to a rehearsed speech, but luckily I knew how to answer all of them.
I shoved a turkey sub into my mouth as a successful alumni discussed her research on gender roles. With everything going on in the media about Bruce Jenner, this couldn't have been a more current topic for the speaker to discuss, even though I'm sure my school had this speaker booked way before Jenner's Dateline.
Once the speaker was done and met with a roaring round of applause, the organizer of the research day announced that she was going to begin calling on award winners. I swallowed my food and took a sip of water. I didn't know how many people presented in my category and if any of them were any good or not, but I thought I had a shot at an award. I was tempted to drive home and take a nap as soon as I was done presenting, but the faint hope that I could actually win something, in addition to free lunch, kept me at school. I very rarely win things, whether it is radio contests or some sort of merit based award. Sometimes I just feel like I'm always coming up short.
Psychology, of course, was the last category they announced for. I sat and held my breathe.
"For Graduate Psychology Oral Presentations, the award goes to..."
And then, after a short pause, the organizer said my name. Mine! The crowd began indiscriminately applauding and I awkwardly stood up from my table. I didn't know anybody at the table, so they turned and when they realized I was standing up, they began clapping louder.
I was sitting next to an international student who I had gathered didn't speak too much english. "That you?" she asked. I modestly nodded and smiled at her. She gasped and began feverishly clapping. I felt like this tiny girl had magically absorbed the spirit of two excited parents at their daughter's preschool dance recital. It was kind of nice.
After some pictures and a wrap up speech, I was ready to go home. It had been a long day, but luckily the school cancelled classes on research day, so I didn't have to hang around for my typical night classes.
As I listened to my heels clack on the pavement of the parking lot, I watched the undergraduate students galavanting around campus, clearly enjoying the amazing weather we were finally having. Even though I felt so accomplished for the day, I was still simply walking to my car like it was any other day.
I took out my phone and dialed Scott's cell phone number. No answer. I let out a heavy sigh of disappointment. I know a lot of times he can't answer his phone while at work, but he would've been really excited for me to have won this award. I decided to talk to the next best person, my mom.
"Caroline, that's such great news!" She screeched in a kind of hushed exclamation, since she was definitely at work. I don't know why they continue to have these things on weekdays. I guess since it's really only for students and faculty to attend. Still, it would've been nice for one or two of my loved ones to have seen my work.
"Yeah, I kind of can't believe it," I replied.
"Of course, you won," she gushed like any proud mom. "Why wouldn't you? You put so much work into this research and you've always been a good speaker. I don't know how you do it. I'd rather die than get up and talk in front of people."
This was true. I wouldn't say I was the best public speaker by nature, but I am able to stand up in front of a crowd and easily talk about a topic, as long as I've had ample time to prepare. Public speaking is pretty much the number one phobia people have and I really can't connect with that. Have people never heard of snakes?
My mom insisted that we go out to dinner that night to celebrate and I obviously hadn't eaten enough free food at school so I agreed. I got in my car and opened the sunroof. It was a beautiful day.