Angie Mazzuca ’13 used to get physically ill at the thought of public speaking.
“But then I joined high school speech and never shut up,” she said.
The once-shy student is now a junior high English teacher coaxing other shy students to come out of their boxes—through drama, speech, knowledge bowl, and classroom presentations. And through a summer TEDx talk, she was able to share her message to a wider audience.
Mazzuca said she’s wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten. Currently a seventh-and eighth-grade English teacher at Pine City High School (Minn.), Mazzuca also coaches junior high speech and senior knowledge bowl. Previously she taught for three years at Rush City High School (Minn.), where she directed theatre and coached speech.
Working with junior high students comes with its set of challenges, but Mazzuca said she loves this age group because they’re “quirky, weird, unpredictable, have high energy, and are funny.”
And, in these formative years, Mazzuca said it’s the perfect time to break them out of their comfort zone. “Sometimes, they find a voice they didn’t even know they had,” she said.
This past summer Mazzuca, who student-taught in Arcadia, Wis., was asked to be part of a series of TEDx presentations around moments of “demur”—moments when a hesitation or objection changed everything. TEDx is a program, which is run under the TED brand to bring a TED-like experience to as many people as possible. TEDx events are independently organized but based on TED’s format and rules.
For Mazzuca, one demur moment was when she joined speech and started making up voices for silverware. She details the experience in her TEDx presentation, “Be yourself by being someone else.”
“By imitating others you absorb their traits into your personalities, take what works and leave what doesn’t,” she said. “It’s how you discover who you truly are.”
As children, she said, we all do role-playing. One day we’re a Power Ranger, the next day we might be a princess. It’s acceptable to experiment about who we are, but that unfortunately stops when we get older.
“What if we chose to try to be someone else for a day?” she suggests. “If you’re shy, try to be extroverted for the day. If extroverted, try to be a little quieter for the day.
“It’s going to be hard. You’re going to be uncomfortable. Break out of your comfort zone.”
Mazzuca strongly encouraged one of her speech students to join the school play. Even though he never would have otherwise, he truly enjoyed the experience.
“If a student can get rid of those fears in junior high, it will help them as they get older,” she said. “In junior high, you have no idea who you are. You think you do but you’re going to totally change. You might think you’re one way, but as you join an activity or make friends with different people, you uncover a different side of you that you never knew.”
Mazzuca said that in life we all imitate others: those we work with, our mentors, and those who inspire us.
As an undergraduate student at Saint Mary’s, Mazzuca’s mentors included English faculty member Dr. John Kerr, and her education professors Drs. Scott and Karen Sorvaag and Dr. Melissa Luedtke.
“I remember we had a kickball game at the Sorvaags’ house. It was super fun, and I remember the education department feeling like a big family,” she said. “Dr. Luedtke and Dr. Kerr helped me through a lot, especially my freshman year.”
Mazzuca said she’s considering returning to Saint Mary’s for English education graduate courses. Wherever the future leads, she won’t be afraid to try new endeavors.
Mazzuca ends her TEDx presentation with the call to action to “challenge yourself to imitate someone or something and ask yourself, ‘Is this me or is this totally against who I am?’ Experiment and have fun and remember to be yourself … eventually.”