Discovering My Passion: Poetry and the Power of Public Speaking

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Oscar Cortes, Summit Sierra Charter School Graduate

This blog post is part of our celebration of charter school graduates across the country and their achievements. Join us in celebrating our #CharterGrads!

Growing up, I always had a fear of public speaking. That’s probably normal for some people, public speaking is one of the most terrifying experiences they can imagine. Instead of shying away from my fear, I faced it and I’ve never regretted it.

Today, I’m a spoken word poet. I’ve performed in front of hundreds of people and won numerous competitions. I plan on pursuing poetry and creative writing in college and my career. But I know I didn’t get here alone. I have spent the last four years at Summit Sierra—a public charter high school in Seattle—where I was fortunate to be surrounded by peers and teachers who took an interest in my passion and helped me build the confidence and skills I needed for success.

In middle school, I was anxious about going to high school. Ms. Burns, Summit Sierra’s school leader, visited my classroom and talked about the school’s mission of preparing students to not just to be admitted to college, but to succeed and graduate from college. At Summit, you’re put on a path to success with the support you need to get there. That path won’t always be a straight line. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that success is the result of a long process filled with setbackstwo steps forward and one step back.

Looking back, there have been many setbacks and obstacles I’ve overcome on my journey thus far. For me, a big one is the fear of judgement that comes from the norm of “being a man.” There are so many stereotypes of what it means to be a man, such as not being vulnerable when we should be able to. Breaking this norm is one of my top priorities. To me, being a man means having the emotional strength to take on challenges, and knowing that expressing our hopes, fears, and aspirations is okay. Summit Sierra has presented me with opportunities to pursue my passion. At school, I learned about ‘Speak With Purpose,’ an Expanded Learning Opportunity offered by the We.APP Young Artists Academy. Even though I had a fear of public speaking, I was interested enough to see how it worked. I was up for the challenge, and I fell in love with it from the beginning.         

Oscar Cortes, Summit Sierra charter school graduate, with classmates In my first year, I took a big leap of faith and decided to perform in front of the entire school. It was part of our English class assignment. We had to choose a partner and write a poem with the subject matter they gave us. I won first place and it immediately boosted my confidence I finally felt “I can do this.”

To reach my goal of becoming a professional poet or spoken word artist, I plan on studying English and communications in college, and I would like to stay in Washington state. I’ve applied at both the University of Washington and Washington State University. I am also considering Gonzaga. Eventually, I want to start an organization for other performers to grow and thrive.

As I look forward to graduating in the spring, I’m more hopeful than ever about the possibilities that await me. I know that my doors of opportunity were opened with the help and guidance of my friends, teachers, and mentors at Summit Sierra and– now, I can’t wait to walk through those doors.


Oscar Cortes is a member of the first-ever graduating class at Summit Sierra. He will be attending the University of Washington in the fall.


[Click to Tweet] Congratulations to @SummitPS graduate Oscar Cortes on finding his passion!