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Shy Girl Learns to Own Podium

Shy Girl Learns to Own Podium

By Carla Magnus


I heard a “Thump,”  and looked down. A kid passed out as we were about to start our first song. I was horrified. I just knew I would be next. The lights beamed on me and I felt like I was in the middle of Death Valley without an escape. I found a way out in the middle of the song. I walked off the stage and rushed to the bathroom.  

As soon as I exited the bathroom, my family was standing with the directors.

“Do you want to go back on the stage,” Ms. Logan asked.

I was too embarrassed. I already made a fool of myself walking off and didn’t want all the attention on me if I returned.

That time, it was my performance with the All County Choir in fifth grade. There were so many other examples of shyness. I often hid behind my parents and never left their side. I ate lunch in the principal’s office in elementary school because the lunch room was too noisy. I cried everyday in kindergarten and begged my parents to let me stay home. My confidence was drained by people who told me I was too light skinned to be Black and I never thought of speaking up when facing the wrath of criticism from peers. I often tried to make myself invisible.

I thought I would never change.

In high school, the band directors helped to crack the shell of my shyness. I played the flute, but there were too many flutes so the band directors selected me to switch to the bassoon with a compliment–”It is difficult and we need someone who is quick to learn how to read notes all over again on a bass clef.”

I was flattered even though I had no idea what the bassoon was. At first, playing the instrument was like trying to go to space in a paper airplane. First, I had to get used to a reed — a double reed and to playing an instrument as large as me. I ended every practice with cramps in my hands and a painful mouth, but there was no more hiding behind the fifteen other flute players.

It was my first year performing at a major band festival. The year before, everyone bragged about receiving the gold score.  Now that I was in the band, I wanted to help us earn it. I was ready to go — I had my music, my reeds, and then everything took a turn for the worse.  As I was holding my bassoon, a gust of bad luck knocked it to the ground. Everyone was already seated and I had to run up on stage by myself holding my broken bassoon. It was like deja vu, but instead of exiting the stage, I was walking on and stayed. Only one note worked, but that was a major note. For the others, I fingered the notes and we won a gold score.

My experience with the bassoon helped to unload my fears of an audience and discomfort with my skin color. My band director inadvertently helps launch my journey to confidence with a mere comment about me being the best fit for a difficult instrument. This inspires me to mentor children and leave them with encouraging marks. At the Breast Cancer Walk, Anelia, who is 9, clings to her mother. I mentor Anelia through Jack and Jill, an organization of African American families. I am with my friends but invite Anelia to walk with me. She gives her mom a hesitant look but eventually joins me. We find kids her age that she knows and I do not return to my friends until she is comfortable.  

I now participate in oratorical contests. Delivering speeches and a lack of confidence do not deter me from seeking leadership positions. Today, I could never see myself walking off the stage.


Carla Magnus, a graduate of Baldwin High School, is a freshman at Temple University.

A Commanding Moment Grows in Queens

A Commanding Moment Grows in Queens

By Nicole Noel



I screamed to my fifth grade class from my seat as if I were the teacher standing in front of the room.  

The yelling stopped, and everyone stared at me.

“Listen to Mrs. Deamore,” I said. “She’s trying to teach.”

They followed my command, and Mrs. Deamore returned to The Civil War. Yet within an hour, the rowdy crowd started laughing and talking, stealing the attention yet again.

My classmate, Kayla, turned to me and said, “Can you yell at them again and get them to shut up?”

I did not follow Kayla’s request even though I had enjoyed stepping outside of the box of my shyness. My mother often refers to fifth grade as my “lost year,” while I will always remember it for that special moment when I found the power of my voice and took charge of the class.

By January, my fifth grade class had pushed two teachers to quit. Then came Mrs. Deamore, who also quit. She wore stylish high heels. She was young, fashionable, but not a match for the rowdy fifth graders. I was considered shy at the time, but my interest in learning compelled me to stand up to the classmates who were bullying yet another teacher.

Looking back, I see my commanding moment as my spark to stop running from the spotlight. In fact, a few months later, I joined my church’s choir even though I had never sang in front of others, not even my own parents. During our third practice, the director assigned me a solo. First he asked for volunteers…Silence…He announced, “How about Nicole.” Flip flop: Everything in me wanted to say no, but somehow I responded– “yes.”

The night before my performance, I dreamt about singing and falling off the stage. The next morning, I cried the entire way to church. I wasn’t kicking and screaming, but still shedding real tears. I was so nervous.  

I was shaking before I even started singing, but I took a deep breath and began. As I looked around, I noticed my father smiling at me, which made me laugh and mess up a few words. I finished to loud applause, but I couldn’t see anything because I had started crying again.

From there, somehow I found a home on stage and in the art studio. My shyness no longer limited my ability to express myself. As a new artist, I eagerly experimented with different styles. Many of my early drawings were graffiti style with bright colors. I started by making portraits and landscape drawings and eventually continued to take the most rigorous art classes offered at my school. The self confidence that I gained in fifth grade has grown, helping me develop into an artist both in the studio and onstage. I will never forget the day last year when I raced from the studio to try outs for my school’s production of Hairspray. I landed a lead singing role as one of the Dynamites, performing without shedding a tear.

My voice has, once again, found itself commanding over fifth graders in the Sunday school class I teach. A few are rowdy, but nothing like those of Mrs. Deamore’s class. Others are as shy as I used to be. I have spent the year encouraging Annia to freely share her opinions with passion. There was a breakthrough one Sunday when she defended her belief in Santa Claus. Jason, always boisterous, challenged her, declaring Santa wasn’t real. Annia responded fiercely: “No, he left a letter next to the cookies thanking me, and he signed it Santa…”

I was proud to have created an environment in which Annia did not have to discover her voice by taking over a rowdy class.

Nicole Noel, a graduate of St. Francis Prep, is a freshman at Temple University.