One of Five but One of Six

Due to my participation in a Toastmaster’s chapter at my summer internship, I prepared this speech as a general ice-breaker. It is a little bit more personal, but I hope you all enjoy it.

One of Five but One of Six

I am one of five kids.

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It is usually one of the first things out of my mouth when I am meeting new people. It’s not like it’s extraordinary for people to have brothers and sisters, but I guess is a little unlikely to be in a family of this size.

My parents, Kelly and John, are an interesting but fantastic pair. My mom, a middle school nurse, was one of seven children, but my dad, a high school math teacher, was an adopted only child. What my mom had with her siblings growing up on Long Island is what my dad always wanted – craziness, companionship, and constant care.

They met at a sleep away camp in upstate New York (I know…I know…summer lovin’ is so cliché). But, they actually decided to get married and start a life of their own together. Above all, they infused in my family a desire to take care of one another, while simultaneously pushing us to be the best individuals we could be.

When I was trying to decide what to speak about today at Toastmasters, I realized how much I have enjoyed hearing about your families in your speeches, even if they were only mentioned briefly. I am excited to share a little bit more about mine today, as I really believe so much of who I am is directly related to being, well, directly related to all of them.

My brother Sean is the oldest, a classic first-born overachiever – currently pursuing an MD/PhD dual-degree. (Don’t worry. I long ago accepted the fact that I will never be able to outshine him.) Hilarious and outgoing, he’s the life of the party, and I have always looked up to him in a typical little sister kind of way.

The oldest girl is Mary Kate, and I am pretty sure her place in the birth order meant she was destined to take care of people for her entire life. In her job as a physical therapist, she shows as much care and devotion to her patients recovering from surgeries, as she did to me when I was learning how to read or tie my shoes.

Kerry takes the role of middle child really seriously. She is constantly involved in the lives and decisions of both her 2 older and 2 younger siblings. It can be exasperating that she claims to always be right when giving her opinions, but it’s often in retrospect that I realize how blessed I am to have someone like her guiding me with only the best intentions in life.

Bringing up the rear is Meghan, a high school senior and the baby of the family. I am so proud of her confidence – in sports, in friendships, and in academics. Out of all my siblings, she and I are the only ones who went to the same high school. I like that she and I have a special place that only the two of us share. Yet, I truly admire that she was never afraid to carve out her own path and become her own person in her years at Villa Walsh.

Now, I know this speech is supposed to be an ice breaker about me. Yet, I find it difficult to explain who I am without explaining my family, the single strongest influence in my life up until this point. Now, I can paint a picture that my parents and siblings are perfect and we are happy together all the time, but this would obviously not be true. What is it really like to live in a house with four other siblings?

It’s crowded. Although I am not the youngest, I was always the one who had to sit in the middle seat (aka the smallest seat with the least leg space) in the minivan. You don’t really have any privacy because you don’t have your own room, and even if you did, we are just in each other’s business anyway.

For better or for worse, you have four other people who you are constantly compared against. When I was a senior in high school, I got wait listed to my then dream school. And, all I could think was how my brother had got into the same school, graduated with really good grades, and was well on his way to being a doctor. I never was taken off the wait list.

At the same time, it is obvious that being one of five has a lot of benefits. You learn how to share your toys and how to take a fast shower.  (Trust me – you don’t want to be the one hogging the bathroom early in the morning and using up all the hot water at la casa de Cullen.) You get used to having someone to always play with or talk to. There is almost always another sibling who has gone through exactly what you are currently experiencing, so they can offer sound advice in a way that our parents sometimes can’t.

It was almost impossible to be bored at my house with so much activity always going on. Growing up with these four uniquely passionate people has shaped me in ways that I am still discovering. However, I reflect on their influences a lot, especially as I writing this speech. Without them, I don’t think I would possess the same enthusiasm for life or the same desire to do something truly important with my career. If I had been born to another family, I worry I would not currently have the same degree of empathy, humor, and/or slightly competitive spirit – all things essential for survival in the Cullen household.

I hope I have made it clear just how important these relationships with my siblings are to me. Now, as I mentioned before, I always say that I am one of five. The truth, however, is I am actually one of six. When I was almost three years old, my mom had her fifth child – a boy named Kevin Patrick. Less than a year later, he passed away from pneumonia, an illness complicated by a heart defect he was born with. Because I was so young, it is hard to distinguish what in my mind are actual memories of him and what are the impressions others have passed on to me.

It’s one of those things I never really know how to bring up in conversation. “I am one of five kids” is usually my go-to line. I have found it’s not very easy to explain my younger brother in a short “getting to know you” discussion. After I have known someone for a while, I usually can share Kevin’s story with them. I wish I could just say that I am one of six but to immediately mention that you have lost a loved one to a person you are just meeting seems to be asking for pity in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

As much emphasis as I have put on the number of siblings I have, it is really not important what the exact terminology is. The fact that, in my heart, I am really one of six makes the relationship amongst the five of us even stronger. We always remember Kevin and the mark he left on our family, even though he was only with us for a short time, and I believe the loss of him has subconsciously reminded us how tightly we must hold onto one another.

At this point in my life, I really really need people to hold onto – people that keep me grounded. As I enter my senior year of college, I still feel like I am a question mark to some extent. After three full years of exploring options, traveling, and figuring things out, there is still so much up in the air.

Where am I going to live? What am I going to do? Who am I going to be?

Right now, as I grapple with a lot of uncertainty about my upcoming graduation, I try to remember to be thankful for the people in my life, especially my siblings. Without them in my past, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without them in my present, I wouldn’t feel confident to just try to make a future path for myself, even if I make mistakes along the way. No matter what the technical number is, I am one of something – a group of people who genuinely want me to be happy in whatever direction my life takes me.

For this, I am lucky.

Erin ★

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2 Responses to One of Five but One of Six

  1. Francine DiGregorio says:


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