The 6-year-old who decided to become a top student

Do not take me wrong. I love learning. It is just that I started my learning journey because I somehow had to. Because there was no choice. I needed to be independent.

I was born in a small city in the south of Mexico and grew up surrounded by plenty of drama. Life exposed me too early to things that children should never be exposed to. I became a quiet child, introspective, always observing. Very early in life, I figured out that if I was a good student, I could get a little scholarship in my public school, which would help me to help my mami. So, I started studying.

I was 6 when I won my first school contest and participated in my first municipal academic competition. The first of many more. I was the youngest of my generation, as I started school a year before them (5). No, it wasn’t smooth. Sometimes I wanted to hang out with the others, but if mum knew I was one mark less than perfect, I would be grounded during days! She quit her job because of me. She used to spend hours helping me to understand my homework, and forcing me to keep studying. I did have free time, and used it in English or piano lessons or selling cheesecakes, or sweets to make some extra money (yet, another little story to tell). When I received my first scholarship, I remember I took my entire family for pizza (yaaay!), and it felt great! By the age of 10, I was in charge of correcting my teacher’s grammar and maths. The time came when I was in 6th grade, and my life changed.

There is a very famous competition in the entire country, and every single 6th-grade student takes part in it. It is the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics (each year, around 2million students participate). My school hadn’t won the municipal contest in about 6 years. Once I was nominated as my school representative, my teacher, Lilia Cordova, decided that I needed to study harder (yaaay… #not).

Every day after school, I used to go home, eat, and get ready to head to my teacher’s house. She tutored me after school every day in advanced grammar, history, geography, civism, science, and maths. She was doing the best she could. It wasn’t all that great! While my friends were playing in the park in front of my house in San Isidro, I was leaving with my books and my glasses to study! While there were troubles in paradise, I still had to put myself together and go to study. I needed to push hard, so I did.

My teacher has a young girl too (older than me alright), Donahi. She was so lucky. I remember sneaking out to play with her in her dolls’ house when my teacher was not looking… Children (sight). My teacher Lilia (I still call her this way when I see her) bought so many books, which I read. I trained with plenty of mock tests once and again and again. Timing it. Moving fast between subjects. Solving my questions. No joking, I learned everything that I needed to know in maths up to a high school level.

I still remember visiting Mama Esther during the Easter break. Her house was every child’s dream. One can get lost in there playing bike, running to collect some mangos, playing with water wars, having fun with my cousins. But not that time. While all of the kids were playing, I was in my bedroom at her house learning by heart the rivers and capitals of the world… I tried to learn them by singing the “Animaniacs” song (yes, I am that old!), which I was not really allowed to watch. Mum thought I had to spend my time in useful duties.

Finally, the D-day arrived. I was there with my mum (yes, she was always there!), and my teacher Lilia. The school hosting it was the champion for the last 6 years. I was a bit intimidated. I remember we were around 20 kids coming from all the schools in the Municipality. I sat. I prepared my pencil and my eraser and waited for the exam to arrive. I do not remember anymore whether it was hard. My memory has completely deleted that. I just remember when the judges were announcing the results. I had won.

I had to prepare harder to go to the regional contest I, competing against the best public schools from the capital of the state. I won again. Then the regional II. Then the state public school contests. All the finalist from all the regions in the state coming. From the rich urban cities, such as Taxco, Zihuatanejo and Acapulco, from the non-so wealthy and from the rural ones. We were all there. Yes, I was very intimidated. I won again. Then had to participate in the final test, the State contest including everybody, public and private schools. Anyway.

12246640_10153803619759312_4006271920755950644_n
Winners in the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics with the Governor of the State of Guerrero (1994)

As winners we were invited, the 20 top students from the state, to meet the Governor and the ministries at Guerrero’s Mansion. The funny thing is that I never realised that that contest would change my life at so many levels (see also How was I ranked one of the top public speakers in my state’s history by the age 25). I was a recipient of the State Medal ‘Francisco Figueroa Mata’, which acknowledges outstanding childhood academic trajectory, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. We were sent to Mexico City to represent our state and join the national talents hanging out with the smartest kids in the country for a week and meeting the President of Mexico and State Ministries.

We also travelled around the country in the “Route of Independence” learning about the history of our country and what makes us the Mexico we are now. Because we were coming from different backgrounds, the government gave us uniforms, sports clothes, formal suits for the official events, shoes, and a camera (my first camera ever!). I also received my first computer and printer. I remember that my Mama Rosi escorted me every day to Conchita’s as my dad decided that I needed to have only suits for my trip (yaaay #not).

WhatsApp Image 2017-05-04 at 06.40.02
On behalf of the Guerrero Delegation, in Mexico City

I was lucky enough that two teachers were invited to come and join us. My teacher Lilia was there with me :). On that trip, I met one of my lifetime friends, Dr Marvin Antonio Soriano, who is making history in health sciences.

ganadores de la Olimpiada del Conocimiento Infantil Guerrero 1994
Winners in the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics, representing Guerrero, with the President of Mexico (1994)

The rest is history. I went back to Tixtla and was received by my elementary school as a little hero. Then I moved into secondary school. There were also academic competitions. I was a municipal, regional and state winner again.

En Tixtla
With my “Tia Julita” acknowledged for Excellence in Secondary School by a group of notables

While in the CBTis 134, my technical high school, I used to go to school in the evenings as I was working in the mornings and training public speaking in the afternoons. When I won the internal competition in Grammar and Writing, I met my teacher Haydee Colmenares, who was assigned as my mentor. She was also very good to me. She trained me hard for a year to stand up and win the state competitions. So I did. And was a winner in the nationals too. Coming from a state like Guerrero, ranked as the 3rd worse in educational quality in Mexico, this is not easy! We are also, as of today, the most dangerous state in Mexico. The following year, I participated again and won the state competition. Something happened and I could not travel to the nationals. But that does not really matter now. On that year, I had won more than 30 academic achievements and was distinguished with the Prize for the Youth Guerrero and the Medal and the State Civil Merit Medal ‘Jose Azueta’, acknowledged for outstanding youth life trajectory by the age of 17.

I left my state to study college. I graduated as a Magna Cum Laude in Puebla. With time, I had the opportunity of studying in Boston and in Dublin. My masters and my PhD respectively.  I have been with worldwide renowned academics and presented my academic work in different countries and universities. My 6 years old self was right, being a good student changed my history. When I am writing and finding it hard to focus, I close my eyes and I can see the little Temis (my childhood nickname), looking at me with her pink glasses (my mum’s favourite colour, not mine!) moving her head in disapproval and going back to her readings in one of her encyclopedias, her hobby (she is strange, I am telling you!).

How was I ranked as a top public speaker by the age 25

I love public speaking. People who know me think that I am a natural. That I have a personal charm that is easy to transfer. I can easily walk into any audience, be it a lecture hall, a business meeting or an international conference setting. It only takes me 3 minutes max to decide what I want to communicate. I grab an A4 piece of paper and fold it in half, and then I scribble my storyline. Nothing sophisticated. Bulled-points, to a maximum of five. That is it. I am ready then to walk in anywhere.

But, let’s be real, it was not always this easy. I have been a coach for a number of people who have become national public speaking champions, who overcame they fear to speak in public. I have coached ministers, CEO’s, startups all around the world to help them polish their speeches and their engagement techniques.

So, this is my story:

I was 11 years old when I decided that I had to stand up and make personal statements. I was a winner in the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics, 1993-1994 (each year, around 2million students participate), and a recipient of the State Medal ‘Francisco Figueroa Mata’, which acknowledges outstanding childhood academic trajectory, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. That was an academic achievement, which deserves another blog entry itself. As winners, the best 20 students of the state were invited to meet the governor, the minister of education, and then to represent the state and join the national talents, hanging out with the brightest kids of the country for a week, meeting the President of Mexico and State Ministers. It was pretty amazing. Especially for a country-side 11 years old, coming from a public elementary school in the south of Mexico. During the contests, I went to different cities and elementary schools and got to see how different they were, and how we could improve them. So, here I was, in front of the governor. I was sure he would love to know what the smartest kids of the state perceived, the reality of the classrooms and schools in the state, so I decided to address him during a breakfast that he offered with his cabinet. Here I was, I raised my hand, stood up, and got started. I was so nervous that I thought I would faint! No, I did not (phew!).

Picture2
11-years old me addressing the Governor of the State of Guerrero, Mexico

Years later, in an interview for the ‘Book of Outstanding Women in the History of the State of Guerrero’, I referred to that moment like this:

Women and men in history often speak about break-through, life-changing moments. That day, was my moment. I discovered that being an academic was good but that in order to be heard and represent people to reach bigger audiences, I needed to leave my books and stand up. I could never describe the intensity of the moment. The emotion, the fear, the nerves. I went back home and grabbed the full collection of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano books and stayed home for the summer, reading. A guy from my same town, who became known as an Academic, an Orator, a Poetry writer and teller, a Diplomat making history in Europe… wow, I thought, imagine…

Anyway, after meeting the people who were in charge of the state, I came back home with a renewed interest. I wanted to be a speaker.

I was determined. I spent every single day after classes during secondary school training. I was lucky enough that I had a really good mentor, my dad, and my secondary school teacher, Natividad Perez. Dad is an Oratory champion. I have memories of my childhood sitting in the living room as an audience to him and his students’ rehearsals.

Picture1
This is me, 4 yrs old, valedictorian in my kinder garden.

With my father, I used to sit and learn to write speeches “for fun”, memorise them, read them out loud, trying to decide the right voice tones to use. I have a full body mirror in my bedroom back home, which served to monitor my facial and body language expressions. I used to rehearse with my father on the rooftop and everybody in the neighbourhood could hear me… Come on, as a teenager, this was not funny! it was though! Think about it, while others were trying to fit in, and hang out with other kids, I was there, with my dad, rehearsing a-zero-girly voice that would be my signature voice for the years to come.

At the same time, with my teacher Naty, I used to rehearse Poetry Recitation, again, spending hours and hours after secondary school. I adore Poetry. I rehearsed body language, facial gestures, voices to communicate different emotions. I used to practice non-stop.

WhatsApp Image 2017-05-04 at 06.42.05
13-years old me, reciting to honour our local heroine, Antonia Nava de Catalan – in front of hundreds of students

When I was 14 years old, I was invited to deliver a speech on behalf of the youth in front of the pre-candidates running for governor. I said yes on the spot and jumped in, in an improvised speech in front of around 2 000 people. Was I nervous? Of course, I was! But I knew I wanted to say what young people needed to overcome and what I had seen getting to know other state’s realities, so I made a case on how and why they should care for the children and the youth. The leading pre-candidate was touched. He liked my command of speech and how I engaged with the audience. He invited me to join his team of elite speakers and to join him, during his campaign and travel all around the state when winning the nomination.

When I started high school, I used to travel every day to the capital of my state. I had a new mentor, a friend of my father, an international champion,  to whom I use to go every day before school. I had to travel 1 hour every day just to get there, to the home of Human Rights of the state. He trained me during two years in Political Debate, a more elegant approach to Political Negotiation, and perfected my technique in the art of Oratory – not that is perfect at all!

Then, I had to run, grab a sandwich in the naturist shop in front and catch up the public transport (combi) to head to CBTis 134 (my technical high school).

That was me, a mix between the elegance and command of an Orator and the delicate emotional touch of communicating emotions via Poetry Recitation.

It was time for another breakthrough moment.

With 15 years I joined the elite team of speakers of the candidate running for governor of state (blog post to come). My mother agreed to come with me so that I could join the campaign team during the following 4 months or so. I addressed people all around the state. We connected in such a level that they started calling me “the voice”. I interacted with all the city mayors, politicians, social leaders, but, most importantly, I got to know and understand people, the first nations communities, the farmers, I went to the local markets and sat there and learned a different reality, their reality.

Mauricio Leyva, writer, current Minister of Culture (Guerrero), would write in my biography:

Artemisa was invited to be part of the elite team of 5 speakers during the political campaign of the candidate running for Governor of Guerrero, Mexico. This activity allowed her to get to know each one of the municipalities of the state, its towns, communities, original communities, its people. She was exposed to the traditions and uses and customs of each one of the seven geographical regions of the state. She strengthened her identity not only as Mexican but as also Guerrerense, as a Tixtleca.

Keynote address
Visiting home- and joining a stage in front of an audience of 3000 people

When I was 17, I was a proud recipient of the State Civil Merit Medal for outstanding youth life trajectory. I have been a valedictorian when graduating in all my educational levels. I had already accomplished more than 30 national, state and regional awards in public speaking, and more than 15 awards in Written Short Story, Poetry Writing and Poetry Recitation.


This skill opened doors for me and led me to my first job and passion, politics, by the age 16. The rest is history – and can be read in the Encyclopaedia of Guerrero, Mexico. Since then, I have spoken in events gathering from 2 to 5000 people for first line politicians, social leaders, congressmen and government leaders, including the Presidents of Mexico.

I have been a speaker at national and international industry and academic events in the USA, in Europe, in the Middle East, in a number of countries and universities, and I never stop thinking about that 11 years old girl, from Tixtla, Guerrero, a 4 million state, the second-highest poverty rate (69.7%) among all Mexican states, one of the most dangerous and with the highest rankings of extreme poverty in Latin America… I made it through.

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-24 at 22.14.14.jpeg

The meaning of life: why is it important to have a purpose?

This morning I woke up with some melancholy thinking about my journey. I found myself having pancakes and debating how important is to give life meaning. Meaning that transcends worldly possessions or short-sighted visions. Meaning that will keep you going, with a smile on your face, because you are honouring your true self.

Boston #boston #rainy #leaves #green #colours #prudential #greatmemories

A photo posted by Arte Misa (@arte.misa) on Sep 27, 2016 at 2:02pm PDT

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js

With this in mind, I opened my newsfeed and a post from , whom I have known for few years, popped up. So, I am sharing it:

Find your metaphors where no one else is looking:

“Live in the deep past, with the language of the Koran or the Mabinogion or Mother Goose or Dickens or Dickinson or Baldwin or whatever speaks to you deeply. Literature is not high school and it’s not actually necessary to know what everyone around you is wearing, in terms of style, and being influenced by people who are being published in this very moment is going to make you look just like them, which is probably not a good long-term goal for being yourself or making a meaningful contribution. At any point in history there is a great tide of writers of similar tone, they wash in, they wash out, the strange starfish stay behind, and the conches. Check out the bestseller list for April 1935 or August 1978 if you don’t believe me. Originality is partly a matter of having your own influences: read evolutionary biology textbooks or the Old Testament, find your metaphors where no one’s looking……”

Rebecca Solnit’s recent advice to writers via Austin Kleon

%d bloggers like this: