A Blossoming Set of Skills

Oral interpretation festival challenges children from generation to generation

By Lisa Maria Boyles

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Thirty years apart, Stacy Batrich-Smith and her daughter, Cassidy Smith, both participated in Fresno State’s Peach Blossom Festival. They aren’t unique in that.

But few multi-generational participants can say they memorized and recited the same piece for the annual oral interpretation festival.

Stacy, a Fresno State alumna with a bachelor’s degree in radio and television, still remembers the piece she performed for Peach Blossom in 1965 as a sixth-grader from Fresno’s Mayfair Elementary School:

“It’s called ‘What is a Girl’ by Alan Beck,” says Stacy, a longtime Fresno businesswoman who came back to campus in March to serve as a judge for the festival.

When her parents purchased a life-insurance policy for her when she was an infant, the insurance salesman gave them a framed copy of “What is a Girl,” which hung in her childhood bedroom.

In 1996, Cassidy also performed “What is a Girl” at Peach Blossom, as a first-grader from Forkner Elementary in Fresno.

Cassidy — a Smittcamp Family Honors College President’s Scholar and a 2011 dean’s medalist from the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism — recalls wearing a pink gingham dress that her mom made just for the performance.

Since it began 60 years ago, Peach Blossom has brought nearly a quarter of a million students, plus teachers, family members and friends, to the Fresno State campus, Communication Department chair Doug Fraleigh estimates. The festival helps young people realize the importance of reading literature aloud and teaches them about interpretation, performance and being an audience member.

“I remember that I wanted to participate in Peach Blossom after going to a schoolwide assembly in kindergarten at Forkner,” Cassidy says. “I thought it was so neat to have the opportunity to make people laugh, cry and everything in between.”

Both women spoke to the impact the Peach Blossom experience has on young students.

“It’s probably the first brush outside of your family or school unit to express yourself and get some feedback and go out into the big world,” Stacy says. “I remember when I was judging, watching these buses come in with these children. It provides a platform for them to experience new things, to participate and to take a challenge.”

Cassidy, who was a featured speaker for Fresno State’s 2016 Pay It Forward luncheon series, credits Peach Blossom with igniting her passion for public speaking:

“I competed in speech and debate in high school, and went on to major in broadcast journalism as an undergrad. The biggest impact it had on my life, however, was the role it played in introducing me to Fresno State. Walking onto the campus that day and getting to roam the halls and sit in the classrooms made it feel like a very real, special place, and I loved it.”

Stacy says her Peach Blossom experience helped launch her into big things, including performing as a dancing bear mascot at Yosemite Junior High, forensics at McLane High, winning Fresno’s Junior Miss competition and California’s Junior Miss competition in 1972, competing for America’s Junior Miss in Mobile, Alabama — not to mention her professional success later.

Cassidy contrasted the Peach Blossom experience with other typical childhood accomplishments:

“Unlike a lot of sports or academic-related activities for elementary school-aged kids, it’s a very independent and creative endeavor. Electing to participate, picking your piece, memorizing it, thoughtfully incorporating gestures — those are a lot of important skills for a 6-year-old. I can’t think of anything else quite like it for children that age.”

— Lisa Maria Boyles is a public information officer at Fresno State.


What is a Girl?

Excerpt from the writings of Alan Beck

“A little girl can be sweeter (and badder) oftener than anyone else in the world. She can jitter around, and stomp, and make funny noises that frazzle your nerves, yet just when you open your mouth, she stands there demure with that special look in her eyes. A girl is Innocence playing in the mud, Beauty standing on its head, and Motherhood dragging a doll by the foot.”