I Believe in Words

1st year
Alpharetta, Georgia
Erin McPherson

I believe in words. I believe in the elegant logic of a hypothesis, I believe in the vivacious electricity of slang, I believe in the engrossing depth of prose, I believe in the perfect punctuation of obscenity. I believe these things not only because I have read them, but because I have heard them.

Two years ago, I sat in a dark room with twenty other students, about to do something I had never done before: a poetry reading. Each of us had written a story or poem, and we were going to read our work in front of hundreds of our peers. I never saw myself as a great writer, much less a performer, but I decided to give it a shot. I submitted my poem, and was now minutes away from the collective judgment of the crowd.

Six people read before me, but to this day I could not tell you what they said. I was too busy running my poem through my mind over and over, its words becoming a murmured rhythm as fast as my pounding heartbeat. My name was called. I stood up, dropped my poem under my chair, and spoke.

I didn't read, I didn't recite, I told my story. And as the words spilled out of my lungs, punching the air with their rhythm, I looked out--into the eyes of friends, strangers, teachers--and for the first time, I believed in words, because for the 90 seconds that I spoke, every person in that room knew me, understood me, heard me, felt my feelings and knew my thoughts. That night showed me the power of spoken words--the escalation of a story that draws you in and doesn't let go, the intimately personal rhythm of every poem, the raw connection that comes from being shown a glimpse of someone else's mind. These are the moments I live for.

I believe that words are the most powerful tools we have in this world to bring about change, to spread new ideas, and to tell our stories. I believe that the most brilliant idea is nothing until it is shared with the world. I believe that the harshest insult cuts more deeply than a knife wound, and I believe that one sincere compliment can get you higher than meth. I believe that words have meaning because we give them meaning. I believe that language is alive, growing and changing, and if you don't like it, you can make your own words, because words belong to all of us.

And I believe that even when you have nothing, you have your own words, your own voice, your own story--and as long as you're breathing, no one can take that away from you.