The second year of the Eminent project means a higher level of expectations. We now know how it all goes, so this is our chance to change what we wanted to change and apply everything we learned from the previous year.

I have been looking forward to the grade 10 speech for 5 years, ever since I first saw my sister’s grade tens present their phenomenal speeches. Although I wasn’t completely confident about going on stage, I wasn’t frightened either. I have been comfortable performing on front of people because I used to perform at dance competitions, starting when I was 3 years old. One of the struggles I have with public speaking is projecting my voice, so I was lucky to have such awesome classmates that provided me with tips and tricks on how to speak with my core, and how to keep my voice directed towards the audience when I turn away.

Unlike last year, I made sure to record each of the five speech drafts it took me to come to a final copy. Since I know that my voice tends to be soft, for this version of the speech, I decided to start everything off with a bang. Literally. Jordan kindly helped me with popping a Ziploc bag to create a gun shot sound effect that would draw the attention of the audience.

The gunshot had a purpose, although I did not expect anyone to be able to guess the meaning behind it. I hoped that any curiosity would provoke the guests to come ask questions about it at my learning centre after the presentations. Elsa’s mother had been shot by George in self-defense, so the sound of the gun was supposed to trigger a memory for Joy that brought her back to where her entire experience with lions first began. I began my speech after Elsa’s death, so the gun sound also helped the audience to guess that something dramatic had happened, although it may not have been directly linked to the sound.

Now that you have a bit of back story, here is my finished speech:

*Gun shot*

“Elsa! Oh my darling Elsa, are you really dead?

Isn’t it funny how all the bricks that rebuilt a life can collapse in an instant?

We all find the one we’d do anything for. For some it’s the person you marry, for others it’s the child you give birth to. For me, I went through three husbands before finding someone who I felt this deeply for. That someone I found was a lioness cub: Elsa.

I remember it so clearly, the day when George placed her tiny body in my arms, a little orphaned lion cub, so small and helpless. From that moment, she became mine. I raised her, watching her grow, just as my love for her did.

I spent all my emotion on Elsa, but I knew that I could not make her my own. After all, she was from the wild, and I knew that it was where she belonged. I didn’t want her to go to a zoo. Lions are meant to be free, to run along the savannah, to roam with their pride, to live a life without bars.

People thought it was outrageous, I mean, returning a tamed animal to the wild? It had never been done before. George and I spent months trying, but it seemed almost hopeless. Finally, we left her one last time. Weeks later, we couldn’t help but return to search for her… when we got there, my heart sank. I almost believed she would come back to us…

But do you know what? Just before we almost abandoned hope, out she came, and trailing her were three beautiful baby cubs. All the obstacles we overcame, all the time we spent, all the effort we put into bringing her back to the life she was meant to live—was worth it. Those cubs were the proof of our success, and the reward for our effort.

Elsa, my darling Elsa. Though I miss you dearly, in the end, at least you lived the life you were meant to—in the wild; free.