By DIDI JAAFAR
Coming from SMK Assunta PJ, an established school, one would think that I am from an affluent family. Sure, we had our good times when my father was the General Manager of a public listed company, but he was laid off when the recession hit Malaysia and we were badly affected. Thereafter, my father started a corporate training company but business was slow due to the economic downturn.
This might sound a bit melodramatic, but at that point in time, we had no car and I walked to school. I knew immediately that I had to ace my SPM to secure a scholarship and ease my father’s financial burden, as he was already paying for my two elder sisters’ education.
Now the big question: did I know what I wanted to study? This I knew: I hated math as I cannot stand the sight of numbers (though I wanted a pay cheque with lots of zeros at the end). Science did not thrill me either, and in no way was I to pursue art, as I could not draw to save my life! But one thing was for sure – I realised that I had the gift of gab. It occurred to me that enjoyed talking in front of a crowd and people actually do listen to me. So perhaps an education in communication was best.
As I had nothing to lose, I applied for a few scholarships from various institutions. Word to the wise – make a point to enquire about these scholarships, as the forms should be distributed online and to school counsellors by mid June/July.
Eventually, I secured the Taylor’s World Class Scholarship to pursue a degree in Communication and Media Management. I still remember the day of the interview as if it was yesterday. Waking up that morning, I was my normal self: zero confidence, upset tummy, no appetite, and thinking of ways to get out of this situation – typical me. Okay, I did not have zero confidence, but I did not want to get my hopes up high either.
When I was informed that I aced the interview, I was ecstatic! Prior to this, I had never given myself credit for my achievements, thinking that I made it out of pure luck (and some pixie dust). It never occurred to me that I was blessed with that special something that helped me stand out on many occasions. Thus, it is imperative to identify your strengths and work on them.
I have never participated in a public speaking competition before, having little confidence in myself. Still, I wanted to try something new. So there we were, my three friends and I competing in the ESU Malaysia-The Star-HSBC Public Speaking Competition. Walking in with no expectations, I was blown away when they announced that I was the 1st runner-up in the nationals. With that, I was on my way to London for the ESU International Public Speaking Competition representing Malaysia. Who would have thought a first timer like myself could make it this far!
All 77 participants had different views on the theme, “Regeneration and Renewal”. I almost got a heart attack upon realising that a girl from Moldova had a similar topic as mine: organ donation! I started to hyperventilate, hoping not to be placed together in the same group. I was placed in Heat 3 together with 17 other participants from nine countries and thankfully, she was not one of them!
When it was my turn to speak, the only thought in my mind was, “Didi, do not make a fool of yourself!” I stood there – the judges looked at me, I looked at them, and a chain reaction started. My legs were shaking, my voice squeaking at a few places. Despite that, I came well prepared. My speech came from my heart, and I was sure the audience and the judges would remember me as the fidgety girl who wanted to donate her organs.
I was shocked when my name was called out. Not only did I make it to the finals, I won the Best Non-Native English Speaker Award! Thus, you must give yourself the opportunity to try new things. In any case, speak from your heart, you will never go wrong.
Personally, I set new targets each semester and work hard to achieve them. Setbacks happen but never let them bog you down. If you are not academically inclined, do not give up as opportunities to excel come in many forms. You can be a world class sportsman like Dato’ Lee Chong Wei, a talented singer finishing first in One in a Million, or an engaging cook like Chef Wan!
The list is endless and it is up to you to make it happen!
Didi Jaafar is a degree student in Communication and Media Management under the Taylor’s World Class Scholarship. She will be interning with leading advertising agency, Universal McCann. Besides aspiring to host her own talk show, she often travels the world with Anthony Bourdain to sample food, with him on the television screen while she sits on the couch munching a packet of potato chips. Click here for more articles.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.