Tri-C Alumna Wins Toastmasters World Title
Ramona Smith draws on personal setbacks in championship speech
“It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.”
You’ve heard the old saying before, in various forms. But you haven’t really heard it until you’ve heard Ramona Smith.
Smith, 31, has been knocked down more than her share of times. The 2014 graduate of Cuyahoga Community College has endured a divorce, her son Ryan’s cancer diagnosis and four failed stints in college. She felt like a boxer who kept taking blow after blow in the ring, willing herself to stagger back to her feet after each fall to the mat.
That’s exactly how she described it in her championship-winning speech at the 2018 Toastmasters International Convention in Chicago. Titled “Still Standing,” Smith’s speech recounted her struggles with an overarching message: the challenges you face in life help shape you, but they don’t define you.
“Life will throw you off, but if you stay in the ring and don’t give up, you will still be standing at the end of each round,” Smith said.
The speech was penned in her hotel room the night before the championship round, with help from some district leaders and fellow Toastmasters who made the trip to Chicago with her.
“I had some great writers on my team, and we worked together, just sitting in a hotel room for six hours writing, editing and revising,” Smith said. “As the sun rose on the day of the final round, I was walking around inside the hotel, practicing my speech.”
Smith won the top prize among a field of 10 finalists selected from a starting field of 80,000 entrants from Toastmasters clubs worldwide.
“You start out at the club level. The winner there goes to the area level; that winner goes to the division level; then district; then the semifinal round,” Smith said. “You have to overcome a lot of competitors just to be among the 10 international finalists.”
But Smith always felt she had a chance to win. She’s been participating in Toastmasters for eight years, reaching the district round of the international competition in 2015. By the time she reached the semifinal round this year, she was confident she could take home the title.
Smith is only the fourth woman in the 80-year history of the competition to win the championship — and only the second African-American woman.
“This year, women took first, second and third place,” she said. “That’s the first time it ever happened. It really felt like girl-power time at the conference.”
Smith is taking her championship trophy back to Houston, where she works as a high school teacher. She moved there last December after graduating from Baldwin Wallace University. But even in the afterglow of her triumph, she still thinks back to where her journey started — at Tri-C.
It was here that Smith experienced her initial academic stumbles, dropping out of college multiple times before Ryan’s birth inspired her to succeed.
“After my son was born, I wanted to get back on the right track,” she said. “I knew I needed an education to do it. I couldn’t reach the heights I wanted to reach without a college education.”
Ryan continues to inspire his mother. He won his battle with cancer, now free of the disease for four years.
Smith’s return to college wasn’t always smooth sailing. She credits her professors at Tri-C for helping her through some of the academic rough spots in her weaker subjects, such as math.
“The instructors were all very hands-on and willing to help,” Smith said. “I was fortunate enough to have the same professor for three of my math classes, and he really helped me along. Tri-C laid a lot of the groundwork for me to graduate magna cum laude from BW, begin a new career and become a successful public speaker.”
Smith will continue to participate in weekly Toastmasters meetings, where she keeps honing her public speaking skills for future competitions — and for her job.
“I’m a teacher, so I speak in public every day,” she said.
The only difference is that now she’s a world champion.
“I may live in Houston now, but I’ll always be from Cleveland,” Smith said. “So LeBron James isn’t the only person to deliver a world championship to Cleveland. And that’s my message to everyone, especially young people. You don’t need to have a ball in your hand, or be an athlete, to do something amazing. Whatever you do, go after it like you want to be a champion.”
August 29, 2018
Erik Cassano, 216-987-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org