I recently had the honor of adjudicating the ACT-SO New Jersey State competition*, a program founded by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The ACT-SO contest begins regionally, ultimately culminating into a national event, in which students compete at various levels in music, visual arts, sciences, business, oration, film, dance and poetry. The state level, in which I participated, took place in Newark this year. I was excited to take part, because I had never judged anyone before – not at someone’s behest anyway! I was curious about the judging process and eager to see, hear and meet today’s developing scholars and artists. I was also curious about the students’ varying levels of technical skill, dedication, artistry and so forth.Judges ACT-SO 2

Competition Day proved to be an exhilarating, if frenzied, experience. To my surprise – and relief! – several New York colleagues were adjudicators, as well, and I was immediately at ease in the knowledge that I’d be sharing this important task with capable, compassionate professionals.

As our day commenced, one by one the candidates came and stood before us judges to present their pieces; to offer up their souls. More than a few were overwrought. A few were underprepared. And still a few more shone brilliantly like small diamonds, only needing to be plucked out and polished.

I experienced many emotions while listening to and observing these green, hopeful contestants. The familiar butterflies of anxiety – wanting so desperately to be uh-MAZ-ing! The agony of imperfection. The barely containable anticipation of performing again.

As the competition came to a close, I ended my day there in New Jersey with a renewed vigor and passion for my craft and a profound respect for educators and mentors across this country. Theirs is not an easy road. I feel so fortunate to have been inducted into this society of leaders and change-makers, and I can hardly wait for the next such opportunity. A most worthy cause.blues

*For more information about ACT-SO New Jersey, visit their website at www.actsonewjersey.org.

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