KEYNOTE SPEECH GIVEN BY NANCY VARALLO AT NCRA CONVENTION AT THE CEREMONIAL COURTROOM OF THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
Thank you, Karen. Thank you, faculty, and NCRA for organizing such a great day for students. I bring you a warm welcome and a big “way to go” to our students from NCRA and the NCRA board. We’re glad you chose court reporting as your career, we’re happy you’re here today, and we wish you success in reaching your goals.
Speaking of success, here’s a favorite quote of mine: “Success is not a result of spontaneous combustion; you must set yourself on fire.”
Today you’re going to hear from several successful court reporters. You’ll learn about practicing and perfecting, and later on you’ll hear from me again in my seminar called “The Professional in the Profession of Court Reporting.” Must be our P day. Practicing, perfecting, and professionalism.
When I talk with you in my seminar this afternoon, I’ll share all kinds of information about setting yourself up as a freelancer, getting an EIN number, managing data security. But this morning, I want to discuss with you what it means to be a professional in the profession of court reporting.
The profession of court reporting. We use the phrase all the time, don’t we? You’ve heard your teachers say it, me, but just what is a profession? Merriam‐Webster’s dictionary says it’s “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.” Interesting words. A calling requiring specialized knowledge.
I started court reporting school in 1978. And yes, I guess I had that calling. I was a poor college student, studying music, teaching piano to make ends meet. I made an early mistake, got married right out of high school, so there went any financial support from the parents.
And guess what I found out? I didn’t like teaching piano. All those kids parading into my music room, having failed to practice all week, wiping their runny noses on the backs of their hands, sitting down to my piano, expecting to play that piece perfectly with no practice at all. No way! Where was the effort? Where was the love of playing? How did they expect to play beautiful sonatas when they’d come in week after week without practicing? Interesting observation: I’ve been teaching court reporting now for 25 years, and except for the runny‐nose part, I could be describing some of my students – or, sadly, some working reporters.
I learned I didn’t want to teach paino, so I switched keyboards, enrolled in court reporting school…and set myself on fire. Yup! No hoping for spontaneous combustion. My finances were spontaneously combusting, so I had to set myself on fire. And I got out of school in just over six months.
Six months, you say. How did I do it? Something happened in that short period of time while I was in school. I fell in love. You’re right, I was married, so it wasn’t what you’re thinking. I fell in love with court reporting. I fell in love with the court reporting profession. And it was that combination of setting myself on fire and falling in love that created, for me, the road to success that I am still on.
After graduation, I steadily worked to earn my CSR, then my RPR, then my merit, my diplomate, and my CRR. In 2001 I became a Fellow of the Academy of Professional Reporters. And I know there’s a least one other Fellow in this room. Anthony? Anyone else? NCRA describes Fellowship in the Academy of Professional Reporters as “a professional distinction conferred upon a person of outstanding and extraordinary qualifications and experience in the field of shorthand reporting.” Congratulations, Anthony, on becoming just that.
Fellowship in the Academy of Professional Reporters. There’s that word again. Professional. Merriam‐Webster says a professional is “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.” A perfect definition for court reporters. “Conforming to technical standards.” How do we do that? By becoming an RPR, a Registered Professional Reporter. “Conforming to ethical standards.” How do we do that? By joining and supporting our state and national court reporting associations.
NCRA is a resource for you, a community, where there is the Code of Professional Ethics, where there are the Guidelines for Professional Practice, where there are advisory opinions, discussion forums, and continuing education; where there is fellowship and networking and support. In short, NCRA is your second home, NCRA is my second home, shared by professionals in our profession. You pay the mortgage or rent payment on your home every month; failing to do so is not an option. Be sure to make the payment on your second home; failing to do so is not an option either.
For me, membership in NCRA and my state association is essential. It should be for all reporters. I’ve worked with reporters as a firm owner, as a mentor, as a coach. There is a quality about the reporters who belong to their associations that doesn’t shine through with those who don’t belong. What is it? I’m not sure, but it’s got something to do with falling in love. It’s got something to do with the security of having more than a hundred years of knowledge, information, and the brain trust of thousands of reporters who have gone before us. Why would a professional not join and support their associations? Feels like turning your back on your relatives. Not an option for me.
Ten years ago, after working in the family court reporting business for 22 years, I opened my own company. It’s unique. My clients are all court reporters and agency owners. They trust me to handle their printing or billing needs, to answer their phones, to review their notes and help them pass their tests. There is no way I could have built a successful business without the impeccable repuation I have earned, without the trust and respect of my clients. And how did I earn it? Through service.
I have served NCRA and the Massachusetts Court Reporting Association for more than 30 years. I learned to say yes long ago. I learned to raise my hand and volunteer. I have rolled up my sleeves and worked. I have had the opportunity to plan, to debate, to strategize, to ponder our future with the brightest minds in our profession. It has shaped me, it has shaped my career, it has taken me to all parts of this nation. I have met and made my best friends through my service, including my husband who I met when he served as a director during my tenure as MCRA president. My fellow Massachusetts court reporters thought it was a coup when I got Ed Varallo to join the board. That was nothing compared to the coup of getting him to marry me!
You might have heard of my husband. His name is Ed Varallo. He’s won a few speed contests in his life. He started his career by taking a theory course the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. During senior year he studied his father’s notes. His father was also a court reporter, the kind of reporter with those clean, crisp notes that make us all jealous – or make us all strive to write just like him. And Ed did strive to write just like him, studying those note and practicing speed at the dining room table. He took his first deposition the day before his 18th birthday in 1964. I think he fell in love with court reporting too. Rather, I know he did.
In 1974, ’75, and ’76 respectively, Ed won three speed contests in a row, retiring the cup, as they say, on his 30th birthday in August of 1976. Ten years later on his 40th birthday, he competed again and won. He repeated that feat winning once again on his 50th birthday; and amazingly, right here in New York City at the annual convention in 2006 and his 60th birthday, Ed competed once more, and in a room as electrified as I’ve ever seen at a reporting convention, he won the cup again. My kids and several of their friends were standing in the back of the room. I never saw them jump so high. But not as high as the reporters jumped from their chairs. Yes, the room was electrified. Why? Because those in attendance were in love. Not with Ed – well, maybe some of the ladies were – but with court reporting. It’s exciting to witness greatness, and here we were watching one of the great writers of our time. We were mesmerized. We were inspired. We were participating in our own professional history.
But let’s move from our history to our future. NCRA has undertaken an initiative this year called Writing Our Future. NCRA members, facilitated by the Board of Directors, have engaged in a strategic dialogue with two specific purposes. First, to determine what NCRA members want the future of the stenographic court reporting
profession to be, and second, what role NCRA should play within that future. We’ve been busy conducting personal interviews, discussing options, surveying our members, and sharing the results at Midyear and online. We are now preparing for a summit of sorts at our annual convention in Las Vegas this August where we will discuss and debate, strategize and summarize our options for the future – for your future. Will we continue our course as a stenographic‐members only association? Will we open membership to voicewriters? Will we become a consortium for all methods of making the record? We will all, together, decide.
This effort should be renamed Writing Your Future, because it’s your future we are planning for. You are the next generation of court reporters. All of you have joined NCRA, I’m sure, or you will have by tomorrow, right? And if you’re like the members before you, most of you will volunteer for NCRA, but only some of you will lead. Come see how it’s done. Come to Las Vegas and participate in Writing Your Future. Again, it is your second home. Get involved now. Can’t make it to Vegas? On July 30th, at 11 a.m. east coast time, the Writing Our Future “summit” will be broadcast so you can participate from home. I don’t have all the details yet, but I believe it will be an interactive session, allowing for your participation. Be sure to “tune in.”
You’ve chosen a solemn profession, a respected profession, one filled with a history dating back 3500 years. I hope you’ve had a chance to visit the Gallery of Shorthand at the federal courthouse in Islip on Long Island. Dom Tursi, a federal official, has invested his heart and soul in creating a museum dedicated to our profession. He is inspiring. He is a man in love with court reporting. Go see it, enjoy it, be rewarded by the experience.
We court reporters do great stuff, don’t we? And while we are great writers, we are so much more than that. We are protectors and we are providers. See, it is our P day today. We are protectors, and we are providers, and we are guardians. Three important words. Serious words. Solemn words. Protector. Provider. Guardian.
As judicial reporters, we are there to protect the rights of the accused. But more than that, we are there to protect the rights of the convicted, to protect the rights of the employee, the spouse, the parent, the business owner to have his day in court. As freelancers, we are the guardians of the record. But more than that, we are the guardians of civil rights and the guardians of due process. As captioners and CART providers, we are the ears of deaf and hard‐of‐hearing people across the nation. But more than that, captioning benefits all of our fellow citizens as we provide the text for important news coverage, access to sports commentary, information about the weather, or just good, old‐fashioned entertainment. We watched the Bruins win the Stanley Cup from our local pubs, and we watched the captions.
So we write. And they will read. The judges and the lawyers, the plaintiffs and the defendants, the deaf and the hearing will read what you write. Instantly or at a later time, electronically or in a nicely bound transcript. They will read your words. But will they know who you are? They may not know your name by reading your words, but they will know whether or not you are a professional if you leave your mark, your brand. And what is that, you ask? It’s the RPR. The Registered Professional Reporter is your brand. It’s got that great word right in the middle. Professional. Tell the world that you are a professional. Graduate from school, sit for the RPR, and pass it. Then don’t stop. Strive to learn, and earn all those great letters after your name that will separate you from the pack. It’s worth it.
We reviewed the definition of profession and professional. I’ll close now with the definition of professionalism. Professionalism is “the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.” Another set of three great words. Conduct, aims, or qualities. Conduct. Conduct yourself at all times with self‐respect and respect for court reporting, and volunteer for your association. Aims. Aim for the highest certificates, enter a speed contest, or just strive to be the best writer in your office or courthouse. Quality. Make sure quality is the hallmark of your life and your work. Quality in your writing and in your transcripts, quality in your personal relationships, quality in your spare time. Less than that is not an option.
So reach high. Plan with imagination. But work with diligence. Henry David Thoreau says, “Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Thank you, I appreciate the invitation to be with you today to celebrate our great profession.