61: Marching for Science

61: Marching for Science

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Marching for Science

Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.

~Oprah Winfrey

My hands were shaking uncontrollably and it felt like my legs were going to give out from under me. Would I fall backward in front of all these people who were staring at me and listening to me? Could they see my paper fluttering around as I tried so incredibly hard to focus on the words that I spent hours putting down on paper? Would I be able to get through all those words, or would one of the doctors in line behind me need to rescue me after I smacked my head on the stage?

Public speaking had been my nemesis for as long as I could remember. I tried to conquer my fear of speaking in public on numerous occasions throughout my life. In high school, I took a public speaking class that forced me to give weekly speeches in front of my peers. Back then my face would burn and sweat would drip from my palms.

During college and at my first few jobs, I would get ridiculously nervous just asking questions in a group setting, and especially when I had to give a presentation or lead a meeting. I usually relied on reading my notes.

Then in my mid-thirties, I decided to join the world-renowned public speaking group Toastmasters. There was no escaping my fear, as I needed to speak in some capacity at every meeting. It became utter torture to prepare speeches and try to recite them from memory. To make it even more stressful, we were rated and forced to compete with other speakers to win an award. You would think that I would walk away from these experiences as a polished speaker. Nope. Nothing seemed to work.

It was not until recently, when science and scientific institutions were being attacked, that I decided I must speak out for what I believe in, even if that meant standing in front of a large group of people. I would rather hide under my bed than be caught giving a speech, but something was different now. It was as if the world had shifted on its axis.

I was concerned, and frankly furious, about how scientific facts were being brushed aside by the powers that be. I believe so deeply in the value of science. Science gave me my children. Science keeps us safe every day as we eat, breathe, and travel. Science has made this country a place where dreams come true — this is why we all need to protect science.

In addition, science is part of what I do. I am a science writer focusing on parenting, wellness, and environmental issues. My previous work experience includes jobs at incredible science organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and an environmental consulting firm. Everything that I write somehow links to science, and I try to get readers to understand how science is intertwined in their daily lives. I even write a blog called “Happy Science Mom,” so clearly science is a huge part of what I live and breathe every single day.

That’s how I ended up on that gigantic, frightening stage on that sunny Saturday in April — Earth Day. I mustered up all my courageous energy and volunteered to speak at the March for Science in my local community. It was a historic day around the globe for those of us who want to protect science. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in about 400 marches and rallies in thirty-seven countries. In all the years that I was involved in working on science in Washington, D.C. and beyond, I have never seen a more incredible gathering of scientists and science supporters.

Science truly does touch everyone. At our event alone, speakers included a doctor, a marine biologist, a photographer, a religious leader, a pharmacist, a cancer survivor, and a child who would not be alive today if it were not for receiving a liver transplant.

Despite the incessant body shakes, weak knees, and fear of collapsing right there in front of all those people, I persevered. How did I do it? I know that I was able to finish that speech because of my tremendous passion. It was an incredible feeling to realize that I played a role in helping to make the world a better place.

It was the first time that I ever felt empowered from speaking. I actually got a thrill from doing it. All those other speeches did not contain the immense drive that came from deep within my heart like that moment I experienced at the March for Science. I may still have been scared out of my mind, but I allowed my passion to lead me to that instant because it was my duty. There was no other option for me.

That day, I looked out into the crowd of like-minded science supporters in my community and I felt comfort… I felt at home. Although it frightens me that science is being threatened, when the audience clapped for what I had to say, I felt hope deep within my soul. When I uttered those last few words — “I am so proud to be standing with you today. And I am even more excited to see each and every one of you working to support science! Thank you!” — I was overcome with joy and serenity.

Reaching that milestone goal of getting through a speech truly changed me. At almost forty years old, I learned that passion can ignite a flame in my heart to get me to do things I never dreamed possible. Since that time, I have led science advocacy group meetings and have broken through the wall of fear when it is time to talk about the issues that mean so much to me. I now believe in Desmond Tutu’s words: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” The darkness that led to my speech is sure to lead to new opportunities and adventures. Who knows? Maybe someday I will even run for office.

~Sandi Schwartz

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