Commentary: How I learned to just ‘speak up’


lisa capobianco [Web]

One day at St. Mary’s Hospital Child Development Center, a 3-year-old girl was just playing around on the monkey bars when all of a sudden she got stuck. In a sudden panic, she froze, and no one could hear a peep out of the small, hazel-eyed girl.

Alice, one of the early childhood teachers who monitored all of the children in the playground, noticed the little girl was having a difficult time.

“If you want help, you need to ask for help,” Alice said in a gentle yet firm voice.

“Help me,” the little girl finally said in a soft, shy voice.


From the time I was able to talk, there was never a moment in my life when people, especially my family, had not urged me to just “speak up.”

As you can see, that little girl stuck on the monkey bars was Lisa Capobianco, that reporter from the Observer who speaks with all kinds of people on a daily basis (a task that requires a lot of “speaking up” in order to get the job done right).

Could you believe she was so quiet as a toddler and throughout most of her years in elementary school? For whatever reason, getting me to utter a word in the classroom or on the playground was like pulling wisdom teeth out. Although I never hesitated talking to my parents at home, my mouth just froze when I arrived to preschool and elementary school. My mind tried to figure out what right words to say… if any at all.

Clearly, I was shy. Although my physical presence tried blending in with my peers in the cafeteria or in the playroom, my mouth didn’t. I sat there in complete silence, listening to those around me and taking everything in.

And when something did come out of my mouth, like “help me,” the majority of folks around me gasped.

“She talked,” some would say in surprise.

It’s a situation even my family still cannot understand to this day. Even when my peers weren’t around, I was still shy with some extended family members, especially when we had larger gatherings around Christmas on my dad’s side of the family.

“Why were you so quiet,” my older cousins would ask me from time to time.

But my paternal grandmother simply would not let me get off the hook in silence. A social butterfly since childhood, my grandma still recalls how she took me by the hand one day at her house and said, “You’re going to learn to socialize. Now talk.”

And then began my social life with extended family members by the age of 5.

But entering kindergarten was a nightmare.

Almost every morning, I felt a strange knot in my stomach, nervous about interacting with a class of 30 loud and rambunctious 5-year-olds.

Although there were a few kids I spoke to, nothing changed much by the time I entered fourth grade. Known as one of the “quiet kids,” I continued keeping to myself, keeping my mouth shut during all parts of the school day, even during lunch and recess.

“It’s important to have friends,” I recall my grandmother telling me after school frequently.

Yet something within me changed from sixth grade on. During that time, my passion for music deepened, and I became more than just a consumer. Not only did I take voice lessons, but I also enrolled in theater camp for two summers in a row. At Seven Angels Theater, I immersed myself in acting, choreography, and singing. Joining other peers within my age group, I took part in a variety show at the end of summer program, which helped me come out of my shell even more.

In that moment, I finally felt like I blended in with everyone else, and my voice was no longer confined to the silence that lingered for so many years.

By the time I reached eighth grade, I also found my own small group of friends that I could speak to after school and on weekends. Although we weren’t the popular crowd, we had fun on our own, and spent many weeknights laughing over a three-way phone call.

It was clear that “speaking up” on stage made my transition into young adulthood go much smoother, and when I entered high school and college, making new friends became that much easier. Participating in the classroom also became less scary, as I gained the confidence needed to “speak up” when being asked a question or raising my hand voluntarily.

In college, my niche for performance and public speaking took the stage again when I decided to join my campus news station. Although I spent the first two years behind the scenes, I became a main anchor during my junior and senior year, appearing live on camera for a half-hour newscast. (I guess not using my voice during the early years of my life paid off.) Through that experience, my passion for journalism grew, and I knew I was on the right career path.

When those I know today hear the story of the little girl who was once afraid to speak up, they are somewhat surprised, for most people would most likely not be able to guess just by talking to me. But it’s a lesson I learned at an early age: there’s nothing that scary about speaking up. It can help you make friends, learn something new…or in my case, save you from spending an eternity on the monkey bars.

Lisa Capobianco is a staff writer with The Observer. She can be reached at