Tag Archives: writers almanac

Perseverance and public speaking: Arianna Huffington edition

Today is Arianna Huffington‘s 58th birthday – I know this thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac, which I get in email form every day.

You can read his post here, but I found two parts of her story especially compelling because they were all about having a goal and persevering despite obstacles. Ath this point in time she is an incredibly skillful public speaker – articulate, witty and quick.

Background: she’s Greek, born in Athens.

One day she saw in a magazine a picture of Cambridge University, and she decided that she wanted to go to school there. Many of her friends and family members ridiculed her, but her mother strongly encouraged her daughter, looked for a scholarship that she could apply for, found cheap airline tickets from Athens to London, and took the teenage Arianna for a visit to the campus. It rained the whole time, and they didn’t get to meet with any school officials, but she imagined herself going to school there. A few years later, she applied and was granted a scholarship.

In college she joined the debating team, a rather uncommon extracurricular activity for a young woman at Cambridge at that time. At first, she wasn’t very skilled, and years later said, “Sometimes I was called to speak after midnight because I was so bad.” But she prepared for each debate as if she were the featured speaker and she began to improve—so much so that in her final year at Cambridge, she was voted president of the debating society. She was the first non-British citizen to earn this position and only the third woman in the school’s history.