The First Place Moment

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At the start of my sophomore year, I decided to do my best to carve a place for myself in the crowded quad of my high school.

My freshman year had been spent observing from the bleachers the athletes, actors, and student council members amongst my classmates. My long, bored summer was spent chatting on the phone with other freshman girlfriends and paging through my newly-acquired 600-page yearbook. I had to participate in something in order to get into college, and gaining a little personal satisfaction would not be too bad, either.

Good grades, a flair for five paragraph essays and a talkative personality were not going to be enough. Marching in the band as one of 20 other flute players was not exactly going to jump off the page and wow an admissions board (and I was not finding my lone extracurricular of walking in tandem with hundreds of other wool-suited minstrels to be a hotbed of excitement.) Sports seemed a good forum for achievement, but the last time I had played on an athletic team I was a seven-year-old t-ball outfielder (when was the last time you saw a t-ball hit into the outfield?) who was gently recommended by her coach to “try ballet.”

So I zeroed in on the only club in which yakking with my girlfriends and the ability to compare and contrast Huck and Jim’s place in society were actually qualifications: the speech and debate team.

I attended the first September meeting and promptly committed to spending my evenings writing speeches. I worked on enunciation, posture, hand movements, and connection with my audience at twice-weekly meetings. I gained confidence and camaraderie with my fellow teammates (me! on a team!). Instead of staring at other kids’ faces in my yearbook, I looked into my own eyes as I practiced in front of my bedroom mirror.

And when the team and I traveled to a high school speech and debate tournament held on a college campus, hours away from my small town and large high school….

I won first place in my event.

I received an honest-to-God trophy.

Have you ever seen the face of an unathletic girl who is handed a trophy, when the only other thing she has ever won is a game of kitchen table Scrabble?

I wish that proud and ecstatic smile, that leap of joy and surge of confidence, for every child in their journey on this earth. Just one first place, in whatever area of expertise they choose. Their win will be more than a ribbon or trophy or plaque, it will be a license to trust themselves and the adult they are becoming.

I wish that first place moment not just for self-conscious middle-class American kids like myself circa 1990. I wish it for every child across this wide earth, in developing countries, too.

However, one child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine.

One in five children worldwide lack access to the life-saving immunizations that keep children healthy. I see that as one in five children at risk for never getting that first place win.

Coordinated worldwide vaccination efforts have made significant progress, particularly in reducing cases of measles and polio, but funding gaps could threaten these gains. That is why I am proud to be a supporter of the Shot@Life campaign, an effort by the United Nations Foundation to ensure that children in need of vaccines receive them, and that worldwide child vaccination efforts remain in place.

Every child deserves that first place moment.

Every child deserves a shot at life.

What will be this Mozambican’s child first place moment? Will he win a spelling bee, a track and field meet, a speech tournament?

I wonder, I hope, and I work towards decreasing vaccine-preventable deaths of children worldwide.

This post was written as part of the Shot@Life Summer Blog Carnival. I was given the writing prompt “winning first place,” as well as statistics and the above image to inspire this piece. Posts by bloggers all over the web will be featured at Shotatlife.org/blog this week — check them out!