After taking seven semesters of engineering classes, I only had a few classes left to take to finish my major, so I decided to fill up my semester with other classes that I'd been thinking of taking to enhance my public speaking abilities and to fulfill some of my interests. I had originally thought of taking a public speaking class, but I was tired of the strictly structured classes and I also had the faint urge to revisit my childhood acting career. So when the time came to register, I enrolled myself in Basic Acting without knowing anyone else who would take it or if I even still embodied that young actress from elementary school (who, by the way, played the princess in Princess and the Pea which I am still very proud of but seems a bit outdated to add to my resume).
I went into the acting class thinking I would become more comfortable speaking in front of people, not knowing that it would actually end up helping many of the other problems I face daily. First of all, I had not made new friends since my first year of college and wasn't sure what to expect going into an intro acting class. Actually, I was expecting a full class of freshmen who were searching for their best friends and I'm sorry but I've already found my soulmate friends so no, I won't be added to the class group chat that will end up blowing up my phone with endless lines of surface-level conversation from people who are sending out a facade of what they want people to think of them so that they make as many surface-level friends as possible. Okay, I got a little carried away with that. I didn't actually think that either. I really just kept an open mind which I try to do when entering new situations.
The class actually consisted of the most diverse group of college students I had encountered yet. It ranged from freshmen who didn't know what they wanted to do to seniors who just decided to pursue their acting dreams and would inevitably be in college for a few more years, to those like me who just wanted a breath of fresh air from their grueling and bland college classes and thought that acting could somehow be applied to their lives after college.
The diversity made it even easier to go in with an open mind and so yes, I did join the group message, and I joined in the conversations which I normally would not do because I always thought that it was disingenuous to start out friendships this way before actually connecting with the people. I have always been one to be standoffish with new people because I assume that I would annoy the person if I asked to hang out with them, etc. But I later learned that connections can be formed through forced interactions at first which later turn into genuine liking. This came in the form of that group message blowing up my phone and hanging out after class to get dinner and act obnoxious in the dining hall because we were, after all, in an acting class. I am happy and surprised to say I made some really good friends in that class.
Our teacher had us do an Identity Project for our first exercise where we had to showcase something people don't normally know about us. Basically, it was really broad and called for some creativity. I decided to make mine humorous, which ended up being almost the only funny one out of numerous emotional projects. However, I tied it to my fears to make it more personal. I added the humor because I didn't want anyone feeling bad for me, and I wanted to make it relatable. I was very nervous during the presentation of it, but to my relief, it got many laughs and praises. This only enhanced my confidence in the class and helped me connect to my classmates on another level.
I can't say I didn't start to judge the people in my class right off the bat. It's human nature. They don't have to be bad judgments, although some of them are, but we all make inferences of people even if we don't like to admit it... because, I know, it makes an ass... you know the rest. After listening to everyone's identity projects, it really changed my perspective on the way I view people who I don't know fully. The people who I assumed I wouldn't be friends with because our personalities wouldn't mesh well ended up sharing things that made me realize they shared my fears or past experiences, or I simply had sympathy for something they went through. So even if I do still judge people, I try to move past it and find out something about them or listen to their story.
After going through the semester of numerous acting exercises, icebreakers, and even guided meditation to help us connect to our inner selves, this class taught me more than most of my classes during college combined. It taught me to get out of my head and to stop dwelling on the nonsense that you tell yourself every day and start engaging with people and be in the moment with them. It reminded me of what it felt like to be my true self and be able to react to someone in a real way because, without it, intimacy does not exist. It taught me how to gain back my confidence and look deep within myself to find my creativity. It taught me how to make friends in a short amount of time. Most importantly, it taught me how to connect with people. Sometimes that connection doesn't even have to include words, but by learning to be comfortable with silence. All of this that I learned and nothing explicitly teaching me public speaking, but these lessons are the backbone and the ground beneath every interaction you have with yourself and other people. So, in the end, I did learn public speaking.