~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities
Stacy Batrich-Smith and her daughter Cassidy Smith (pictured above) have deep ties to Fresno State. Both are Arts and Humanities alums — Stacy graduated from the then-Radio and Television option in 1976; Cassidy was a Smittcamp Family Honors College President’s Scholar and a dean’s medalist from the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism in 2011.
And both participated in Peach Blossom, the annual oral interpretation festival hosted by the Department of Communication. When thousands of elementary school children converge on the Fresno State campus to recite poems and literature on March 9 and 10, they will take part in Peach Blossom’s historic 60th anniversary.
The festival helps young people realize the importance of reading literature aloud and teaches them about interpretation, performance and being an audience member.
“Peach Blossom opens the gates of creativity and imagination to our school children,” said Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval. “Its 60-year trajectory has forged a significant memory for thousands of children who – many for the first time in their lives — come to our campus to celebrate the meaningful art of poetic interpretation. This momentous experience spans generations and promotes interpersonal communication and the exploration of the world of ideas – fundamental tenets of the arts and the humanities.”
Since it began in 1958, nearly a quarter of a million students, plus teachers, family members and friends have come to the Fresno State campus, estimated department chair Doug Fraleigh. Many of those involved — like Stacy and Cassidy — have been different generations of the same family.
Stacy still remembers the piece she memorized and recited for Peach Blossom in 1965 when she was a sixth-grader at Mayfair Elementary School:
“It’s called ‘What is a Girl’ by Alan Beck,” said Stacy Batrich-Smith, a longtime Fresno businesswoman who has judged Peach Blossom in recent years. 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 on the wall in her childhood bedroom.
During a recent interview, Stacy could still recite the opening paragraph:
“Little girls are the nicest things that can happen to people. They are born with a bit of angel-shine about them, and though it wears thin sometimes, there is always enough left to lasso your heart.”
Some 30 years later, Cassidy also performed at Peach Blossom, as a first-grader at Forkner Elementary in 1996. What piece did Cassidy memorize for the oral interpretation festival?
“What is a Girl” by Alan Beck, of course — wearing a pink gingham dress that her mom made for the performance.
“I remember that I wanted to participate in Peach Blossom after going to a school-wide assembly in kindergarten at Forkner,” said Cassidy, who now works in Dallas for Sabre Corporation, a leading global travel technology company. “I thought it was so neat to have the opportunity to make people laugh, cry and everything in between. When I came home and told my mom about this ‘poem reciting thing,’ she was so excited to tell me she’d competed in the sixth grade. She shared the poem she’d recited, which I loved, and we decided that’s the one I’d enter with as well.”
Cassidy may have been the youngest Peach Blossom participant from Forkner, where students had to compete at their school level for the privilege of advancing to the competition on the university campus.
“As a first-grader in 1996, I was determined to get to the final round at Fresno State because everyone kept saying that no one my age or younger had ever done it before at Forkner,” Cassidy remembers. “My mom spent weeks after work making me a really special dress to wear for the big day at Fresno State.”
Both women spoke to the impact the Peach Blossom experience has on young students.
“It’s probably the first brush outside of your family/school unit to express yourself and get some feedback and go out into the big world,” Stacy said. “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 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.”
Stacy said 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 pageant competition and California’s Junior Miss competition in 1972, competing for America’s Junior Miss in Mobile, Alabama — not to mention her professional success during her later career.
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. … It meant a lot to me during my time as a student at Fresno State to get to serve as a Peach Blossom judge — truly a full-circle experience.”
In the months leading up to the Peach Blossom Diamond Jubilee on March 3, we will highlight some more notable stories of people who have been involved with the festival over the years.