How an International College Program Is Changing Its Participants For The Better

Christen Palange Published 25 Apr 2016

Standing outside of a hotel conference room, I feel like this is the most important thing happening in all of Washington DC today.

Everyone back home knows that we are at this competition and if we come back without a win it will be the first time in five years for our school. None of us wants to be a part of a team known for that.

So here I am, standing in the hallway with my team, waiting to be invited in to the room. I keep repeating my speech to myself, just short of panicking.

This is the moment that will define our team. The moment that will either crush our confidence in the work we’ve been doing all year, or validate it.

Would we be representing the Enactus name well enough? “Enactus – we believe investing in students who take entrepreneurial action for others creates a better world for us all.” That last part in particular –creates a better world for us all – is a bit of pressure for ten people in their twenties.

We are invited in and take our positions.

We stand before the 16 judges tasked with judging our speech against the others in our league. They begin matching the names and faces to our annual report, while we seek the friendliest to maintain eye contact with. These judges look approachable, but serious, each a business professional at various companies in the Northeast. They have already had a long day – they had started this morning and we were the second to last of the day.

Who were they? Where had they been? The overwhelming wealth of knowledge in that room could give me a lifetime of insight. Instead of accessing that, we are presenting our experiences to them. The irony of how much we could have benefited from listening instead of speaking for those sixteen minutes is not lost on me.

We delivered a timed speech that encompassed everything we have done over the past six months. This includes our work in creating a borrower’s education seminar for small businesses to learn about best loan practices. We also split up into teams, each working with a woman entrepreneur on various tasks including marketing and product development. Every minute of every project was for the impact we would make in the community, but was leading up to the moment when we present in front of these judges.  Everything we had worked toward came down to the next sixteen minutes.

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The judge says we can begin our speech and immediately begins timing. We start speaking and transition to each person without hesitation. We end the speech with smiles on our faces.

We couldn’t help it. The judges ask us questions that showed we had sparked their interest and their faces express satisfaction with our results.

Walking out of that room, I felt like anything was possible. We barely knew each other going in to this. Ten near strangers when we began in September, but stepping out into the hallway, it felt like if we worked together, nothing could get in our way. While it took six months to get here, the moments after the presentation were some of the most rewarding in my lifetime.

By the time we got to the awards ceremony, we all felt we did as well as we could have. It was up to the judges at this point. They began announcing the winners; the first school was called, the second school, then the University of New Hampshire. We began cheering before they even said the word Hampshire, which could have been embarrassing, but luckily, the school was in fact ours.

We came out regional champions, with a few teams from each league moving on to the national competition in May.

While it may not have been the most important thing going on in the city that day, it was one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I tend to be pretty quiet and because of this, when I joined Enactus I doubted I would ever be able to speak at the competition. I am not the one in class to shout out the answer, in fact, you may rarely hear my voice. But the encouragement I received gave me the confidence to speak where I never thought I would.

Since joining Enactus, I have grown as a person and a business professional. The program has allowed me to experience real life business situations while becoming a more confident, outgoing person. I still have another year left of college, but I feel prepared for any post-college experience I may be up against.

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