This Post is a written transcript of my Icebreaker Speech for a Toastmasters Meeting. At least, my speech is supposed to go something like this.

Hello, my name is Rolando Peraza and today I’d like to tell you a bit about a mentor of mine, someone who’s had a big influence on my life. His name was Ted. Every time I hear about TED talks, it brings him to mind. Not because I knew him as a speaker, but because of the inspiration he’s given me throughout the years.

Back when I was in the 3rd grade, I entered an essay contest to a school program that made me eligible to receive a small college scholarship. Although I don’t remember what I wrote about, and didn’t understand the significance of getting a scholarship, I knew that the program fixed me up with a mentor (Ted) who would come see me once a week after school.

For the most part, he’d help me out after school and we’d meet at my High School’s Career center. Besides working on Calculus and my SAT questions, he often nudged me to try extracurricular activities. Maybe trying a sport or getting involved in a school club.

This all sounded great; I even remember telling him that I was into the idea of joining the Track team. But – I didn’t listen. At the time I was just into gaming and messing around with computers, and preferred to spend my afternoons playing computer games.

As much as Ted helped me out with my schoolwork, ironically it was his story about him flunking out of college that inspired me the most. He had gotten a full-ride scholarship to go to Santa Clara University, and he was a diligent student when he first began to study Engineering. While he was at school, he developed in interest in Ballroom dance, and he’d often go out to dances instead of studying. Eventually his grades slipped, so much so that he lost his scholarship to go to school.

Although he was kicked out of school and lost his scholarship, he told me he never regretted that experience. In the end, he got to go to San Jose State University, and still had a career in Engineering like he meant to. More importantly, he had that experience, of going out and really enjoying his life.

I’ll never forget the impact he had on me, especially when he passed away.

It was January 1st, 2013 when I called his house to wish him a happy New Year. I walked into my mom’s bathroom, looking out the window into a bright gray sky. His wife picked up:

“Hello, this is Barbara.”

“Hi Barbara, this is Rolando. Is Ted there? Just wanted to wish you all a happy New Year!”

She gave a heavy sigh.

“Rolando I don’t know what to tell you… Ted died. He was battling disease for a few months and passed away this July.”

I didn’t know where to take the conversation from there. I don’t remember the details of what happened to him. I only thought about how long it’d been since I contacted him.

I gave his wife my deepest condolences, and hung up. I then looked in the mirror, and finally felt the tears come out.

Why did I wait so long?

As painful as it was to lose him, I like to think that in some ways this experience was a gift. It was a wake-up call that I felt I needed. Up until then I often resisted getting closer to people, even my family members. Though I’m not perfect by any means, I do make a lot more of an effort to make time for the people that matter most to me. And also, to make time to enjoy myself and try new things, as Ted taught me to do.

Thank you,
Rolando