Are You as Confident as a Fifth Grader?

At 10, Dalton Sherman is a speech-making pro. Since winning a big oratory competition in Dallas last January, he’s performed at numerous churches and events all over Dallas. He even opened an event for famed poet Maya Angelou.

“He has the ‘it’ factor,” said Dawn Blair, Dalton’s godmother. “Like Tiger has it, Obama has it. You can’t put your finger on it.”

And since his Wednesday speech, which left many teachers cheering and others in tears, his family has been inundated by phone calls and e-mails.

A talkative kid, Dalton bounces up and down on a couch in his family’s home talking about his craft. His parents call it his “gift.”

“I try to shake and move when I’m getting ready to go on,” Dalton says, while demonstrating his movements. “I walk out there and I’m like here it comes—no turning back now. Then I just begin.”

Dalton is a fifth-grader at Charles Rice Learning Center. His family lives down the street from Kimball High School in southern Dallas in a neat ranch house filled with photos. His brother Demosthenes, 13, is an aspiring astronaut and his sister, De’asure Crawford, 22, an accountant.

Dalton is an “A” student, plays basketball and is a blue belt in karate. His favorite books are The Magic Tree House series. He won his first oratory competition in the first grade. His family describes him as energetic and competitive. His motto is “I’m in it to win it.”

Talking in front of 17,000 people at American Airlines Center was his biggest event yet. The applause motivated him, especially when he gestured and gave shout-outs to different neighborhoods, like Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, telling teachers to help children no matter where they’re from.

“When I hear them cheering, it’s like, oh yeah, they’re feeling me,” he said.

Then there came the end.

“I felt drained. I kept shaking. That’s what happens after every speech,” Dalton said.

His dad, Carlos, was impressed.

“He rocked the house. I’m super-proud,” he said.

Dalton turns to his dad. “You cried?” he asked.

“Yeah, I cried. Daddy cries too,” Mr. Sherman said, hugging his son.

Dalton’s speech was directed toward teachers.

“We need you,” he told them. They played a big role in preparing him for his big performance. Both his oratory coach from school, Irene Redmond, a fourth-grade teacher, and mother Donna Sherman, a DISD fifth-grade teacher, coached him all summer in preparation for his performance. They focus on proper diction and pronunciation of words.

Ms. Redmond said she immediately recognized his big vocabulary when she began coaching him, and he worked hard in response.

“He lives to please you,” she said. “He feels disappointed when he doesn’t.”

“I hope that I touch a lot of people,” Dalton added.

School district officials contacted the family last May about giving the convocation speech for teachers. Dallas ISD officials wrote it.

In June, he memorized the words. Then he practiced giving the speech up to three times a week at his family’s church, Concord Missionary Baptist. His mother and Ms. Redmond stood in the balcony as he practiced his movements and the built-in pauses to punctuate the text.

Mrs. Sherman uses a worn book of her grandfather’s, “Natural Drills in Expression,” published in 1909, to coach her son on pronunciation.

Demonstrating, she reads a sentence. Dalton repeats it— “to dare, to do, to die.” He loves the book.

Dalton wants to be a news anchor someday, but he’s got even bigger plans.

“Maybe after that, I’ll try to be president,” he says. “I want to be the next Obama.”

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