I’m a great public speaker.

There, I said it. I’m not trying to sound like a braggart, but after three years of competing in speech and debate, two years of coaching it and eight years of theater, I think I’ve gained some skill.

So when Celebrate Gannon, the University’s annual conference, rolled around I thought it would be a great opportunity to utilize that skill. I could do some presentations on my research and other academic and extracurricular endeavors, put some lines on my CV and hopefully earn some prizes.

Okay, so I was mostly in it for the prizes ($100 to the winner in each category). There are four categories for undergraduates: research, scholarship, engagement and creativity, and for the first three you can either do a poster or a presentation. I opted for the presentations, wanting to play to my strengths. I ended up doing five presentations: two in research, two in engagement, and one in scholarship.

I lost them all.

After winning last year with only one presentation in research, it was incredibly humbling. I knew I had done a great job with all of them, so I wasn’t upset with myself. And with more students competing this year than before, the odds were even slimmer.

I didn’t walk away from the competition with any prizes, but I did walk away with some insights. The point of the competition wasn’t the money, but the practice. Going into graduate school, I’m going to be going to a lot more conferences and doing a lot more presentations in the future. A smaller conference like Celebrate Gannon allows me to get practice in a friendlier environment. I got great feedback from both friends and professors who came to watch– and the extra lines on my CV didn’t hurt either.

Take every opportunity you can to improve in whatever you do. Show off and discuss your work. Get constructive criticism. Ask questions. Seek advice. As Miss Frizzle says in the Magic School Bus series, “Take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”

While the skills you gain will be the most important, maybe someday you’ll win a prize.