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  • Writer's pictureAlison Burmeister

Advice To Your 12 Year Old Self-The Speech Competiton

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Growing up in the 80's, was awesome. We pioneered the technological age, witnessed the television and commercial marketing boom and consumed everything! We were the original "influencers" if you will. Growing up in the 80's my favorite sit-com was “The Cosby Show”.  I was a "Cosby Show" watcher, a pudding muncher and crazy sweater lover. I looked up to Bill Cosby so much that in 1986 when I was asked who my favorite American was, I wrote a speech about him.

"My favorite American is Bill Cosby," said my 12 year-old self as I stood at the lone microphone, center stage. Blinded by the spotlight I squinted and scanned the sea of faces in the hotel ballroom to see if I could locate my parents, grandparents, brother and neighbor Mrs. Longinow. Rows of parents proudly wore round buttons pinned to their chests encasing their daughters’ pictures. Below, in front of me was a panel of judges with pen, paper and encouraging fake smiles. Behind me on the wall hung metallic red, white and blue streamers, a big circular styrofoam "Miss America Pageant" sign and beneath it a banner that read, "Dreams do come true, and this is where they start".

Sadly, my dreams were about to be crushed. The speech I had so carefully crafted about my favorite American Bill Cosby, that I had delivered flawlessly the previous day in the prelims, landing me a spot amongst seven other girls in the speech competition finals, was gone, forgotten, erased from my memory.  I choked.  All was silent--except for the parquet floor that creaked underneath me as I shifted my feet, searching for something to say. Arms at my side, both hands sought the fabric of the red pageant logo track shorts that sat high on my waist, my pageant logo t-shirt tucked into them. I leaned in towards the microphone, tight coils of aqua net curls, set the night before by my mom in rag curlers, framed my flushed face and neck. The long awkward silence finally broke as I mustered up the courage to put an end to the speech I had never really started.  “...And that is why Bill Cosby is my favorite American...thank you very much."  I side stepped off stage, chin down, staring at my red rimmed bobby socks and crisp white imitation Keds to join the rest of the contestants in a ballroom next door. Careful not to show the utter shame and disappointment I felt for forgetting my entire speech, I did as every girl raised in a wasp-y Chicago home would do, I smiled and carried on as if nothing was wrong.

That morning, before the dreadful speech, we rode down for the buffet breakfast in the glass elevators with a trio of men carrying three darts in their pockets and smelling of stale beer. Adjacent to the Miss Illinois Pre Teen Pageant Ballroom was the International Dart Competition. We arrived early for breakfast, as my Dad was a military guy and my brother and I had not yet reached the peak of our defiant, narcoleptic teen years. I remember not practicing my speech the night before the competition…or even reviewing it the morning of. I felt I knew it, what could go wrong?

Which in retrospect, maybe nothing was wrong…maybe my 12 year old-self knew more than I gave her credit for in that moment. Thirty-two years later when my Mom uncovered the scrapbook and photo album from the pageant I found a letter my neighbor Mrs. Longinow wrote to me after the pageant pressed between the pages of my pageant photo album.

“Dear Alison,

'I saw you recover gracefully from some forgotten lines”…try the whole speech Mrs. Longinow, but okay. “To watch you smile throughout without fear was admirable.—To stand up with gladness yet humility. Your mom’s rule is so true: “Pretty is as Pretty does.” You have become dearer to me and I am proud of you.'

Mrs. Longinow"

When I asked my Mom about the forgotten speech my mom replied? "You forgot your speech? But you did so good I thought!" My Mom didn’t even remember I had forgotten my speech! To her point, for a first time pageanter, I did all right. Despite my home sewn dress and botched speech when we all walked onto the stage for our final parade on stage, they announced the court and queen. I was voted Third Runner Up. For my efforts I received a decent size fake metal and marble trophy that I was pretty proud of, but in the back of my mind, I was still embarrassed about the speech.

But the fact of the matter is, Bill Cosby wasn’t my favorite American, Dr. Huxtable was. And yes I forgot my speech, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Like most things in life, whether in the 80’s or now, bad things happen and you either get through it or arrested. It’s a toss up really.

Advice to your 12 year old self: It is not so much the action, but reaction to a situation that determines the outcome.

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