Eighteen finalists competed in this year’s Westminster School Fourth Form Public Speaking Contest held May 1 in Werner Centennial Center. Sophie Grace Stevenson, whose speech focused on striving to do what you are passionate about, earned first place. Honorable Mentions were awarded to Maddie Clark and James O’Connell.
The competition was the culmination of the work Fourth Formers completed in the Speech Writing and Public Speaking course that they took during the winter and part of the spring trimesters. Each student selected a topic of their choosing and then was asked to try to relate it to one of the themes from their civic engagement course last fall. They then prepared an original, persuasive speech that they presented to their class section. Following this round of competition, students from each section were selected by their teacher and teaching assistants to be finalists in the competition. This year’s contest was attended by members of the Fourth Form and faculty. This is the first year that Westminster has required the Third Form students to attend the public speaking contest, according to civics and history instructor Todd Eckerson.
“By doing so, the school had hoped to show the rising Fourth Formers the type of work that will be asked of them. To put it simply, this year’s Fourth Form put on quite a show — the Finalists’ speeches served as exemplars both for how to use rhetorical devices in the construction of a well-written speech as well as what a well-delivered speech looks and sounds like. Excellent to Outstanding,” he said.
That process of writing speeches is quite labor intensive for students. “Without the one-on-one assistance provided by the co-teachers and teaching assistants, we could not run this course the way we would like,” Eckerson added.
Stevenson’s speech focused on the importance of pursuing your passion.
“In my Civic Engagement and Public Speaking class, we had to tie one of the concepts we had learned during the year to our speech. I tied mine to Plato’s Cave and the necessity of trying to find your way out of the cave and striving to do what you're passionate about, regardless of what some may think or how you may be judged. I knew I wanted to talk about my love for cooking and all the passions I had discovered once coming to Westminster, eventually creating my speech,” she said.
In her speech, Stevenson spoke how she turned down an opportunity to write a cookbook and potentially create a cooking show on Greek food for PBS.
Her speech read, in part, “Now you may say that was idiotic and that I turned down quite the opportunity as I was told at the time, but I say, you all do the same daily. How often do you turn down an offer because you’re scared or embarrassed? Stop doing that. You are wasting your time. Dare to be great, stupid, embarrassing. Just dare to be something unique. Find what motivates you and then have the courage to keep moving forward, find what makes you different and exploit it till it’s dry. You don’t know what motivates you? Okay, dare to fake it. Explore, run, trip, fall, crash, and burn, just dare to do something. Move forward. If nothing is pulling you, yank that chain yourself. Commit to what you do and do it fully. What’s holding you back, embarrassment, lack of motivation, fear? The door is wide open or maybe the door is only open a crack, but pry it open, and shimmy your way through and commit to chasing that something. You are the horse and a carrot on a fishing rod lingers above you, so dare to bite it, to chase it, just bite that carrot, take that opportunity. From one failure to another, commit to the bit. Dare to be something.”
Stevenson said she enjoyed the class, and had fun writing her first speech, which was arguing why parents should allow their kids to watch “SpongeBob.” To prepare herself for the competition, she memorized and practiced her speech.
“I wasn't sure if I could present my speech in front of my civic class, let alone half of my school,” she said. “I think the only way to get over that, which you never really can, is to just practice until you feel that you basically have memorized it. Other than that, I had hoped that I would walk around a little more and trust that I had memorized my speech, but I did find it a really fun experience.”
The finalists for 22–23 Westminster School Fourth Form Public Speaking Contest were: Maddie Clark, Declan Cody, Sarah Eddy, Nyla Francis, Chip Genung, Adrienne Hall, Zac Jainchill, Easton Masse, Ben Norten, Camilla Norton, James O’Connell, Hugh Olson, Elise Park, Lily Raskind, Lila Smith, Sophie Grace Stevenson, Ben Swift, and Lucy Wainwright.