I cherish memories of moments spent with my daughters. One day, my daughter brought me a homework assignment that was a survey for her parents to complete. It was a short survey asking what the 3 most important things in life are. For number 1, I answered: Kindness. For number 2: I answered Kindness for Number 3: again I answered Kindness. My daughter was perplexed as to why I had listed the same answer-Kindness- for all 3 most important things in life. I smiled. Then I began to tell her about the time over ten years ago when I took her with me to a Toastmasters event and we had the opportunity to meet a special person - a person who continues to profoundly influence my life.
It was in the month of March 2010 when I received an invitation for an event organized by my district Toastmasters to be addressed by LaShunda Rundles. During that time, LaShunda indisputably was one of the best public speakers in the world. Very few people knew she had been diagnosed with Lupus, a deadly and painful disease of the autoimmune system. The disease causes long-term pain throughout the body and in the joints, muscles and tissues. This made standing upright more difficult, and she often needed a wheelchair to complete her speech. But still, she overcame major medical trials and personal challenges to become the 2008 World Champion in Public Speaking at the Toastmasters International convention in Calgary, Canada. It was a great opportunity for me to meet her in person, and I attended the event with my daughter and wife.
The meeting started with the Championship speech “Speak” by LaShunda. I was struck by the sight of her. Her medical diagnosis was grim and yet she appeared contented, fully engaged and was obviously in high spirits as she spoke to the applauding audience. Towards the end I was able to meet her. I had been writing an article about LaShunda for a magazine published in India. The magazine was for the young people, to inspire them with the stories of the achievers and I was more than happy to show her my writing. I still remember the day vividly; it was one of those rare moments when you sensed you were witnessing something especial.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a forever enthusiastic man, someone who loves to engage in any conversation. My wife , on the other had , thinks that I often go overboard, and she has a habit of either pinching me or stomping on my foot – to keep me firmly on the ground! My daughter, who was just six years old then, inherited the former habit, although for a different reason - she would pinch whenever she wanted attention. That day, as I was utterly engaged with LaShunda, I felt the pinch. Since it was in my lower back, I knew it was my little one and I ignored her. But, then, as soon as I began to show the rest of pages of the magazine to LaShunda and talk enthusiastically telling her about my childhood days, the stomping began. So there I was, a wannabe Toastmaster trying to impress with his newly acquired speaking skills, being pinched by his daughter and being stomped on by his wife, and there was the World Champion , listening attentively, oblivious to everything around her – it was a sight to behold!
Friends, as I reminisce, it wasn’t just the joy of talking to LaShunda; up close, I got to see the goodness that trickled from her very nature. After I had shown her my writing, LaShunda asked, “Are you going to publish a book?” As I stood by her nodding, she was telling me; “By speaking and publishing you are going to enable the dreams of others.” It was one of the most touching moments of my life. It had been a long day; she was probably tired and stressed because of her severe medical condition but still she chose to be kind and responsive to my need. She was a human being who even in her most difficult situation was showing kindness to a fellow human being.
In August 2012, Rundles succumbed to lupus but her goodness has continued to influence and impact my life. So when my daughter asked me about the three important things in life I answered all of them as kindness. In this hectic careless world, life makes us jaded, stressed, and pushes us to be mean, crabby, and inconsiderate. However, LaShunda filled my heart with so much empathy that no matter how tired, stressed, or irrational I may feel I choose to be kind always , every time. Friends, there are three important things in life – the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.
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Highway to Excellence toastmasters has a unique program called workshop where members get the opportunity to conduct a program of his own. On 17th September 2020 , there was an unique event A tribute to LaShunda Rundles – with music , speech , songs and visuals.
Toastmasters International is an organization that changes lives. In addition to the experiential learning inside our clubs, the District offers additional opportunities for personal growth. Speech contests are an example of such opportunities. The International Speech Contest is the one contest that goes beyond the District level to the International Stage. District winners moved up to semifinals. Semifinal winners then competed in the World Championship of Public Speaking.
This evening is in honor of a remarkable Toastmaster who progressed through that grueling International Speech competition and became The 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking. Her victory was a victory for everyone in District 50 and District 25! She presented a winning speech in spite of the war she was waging against a debilitating disease. She was triumphant….not just as a Toastmasters champion but also in life…the way she lived her life.
· Introduction by Marylee Mims , past district governor Toastmasters International.
· A portrait was unveiled. It is of LaShunda. It was created by Hirak Medhi , a young artist from India.
· Ankur Bora gave a speech reflecting on how LaShunda’s inspiration and kindness profoundly touched him. The title was Three important things in life
· Vanessa Rivera presented an instrumental reflection.
· Sonya Rundles followed with a reflection through song.
· Shannon Hills-Cline offered closing thoughts.
· Chuck Mencke welcomed guest comments.
Ankur Bora has been thinking about an evening to honor La Shunda Rundles for a number of years. He is thankful for the other team members (Toastmasters all) for the successful event.
District 25 Newsletter: A tribute to LaShunda Rundles with music , speech , songs and visuals