The top three from the District competition with the Optimist Governor (right). Manheim Township’s Benton Waters (second from the left) placed first. Photo courtesy of Kristel Kennedy.
By Chloe Miller
Have you ever had to give a speech in front of your entire class and felt yourself slowly forget every word you were planning on saying? This is how multiple students at Manheim Township High School had felt before they took Public Speaking, a half-year elective offered by teacher Kristel Kennedy. In Public Speaking, students are required to give multiple speeches to their class during the course of the semester, and one of the most important this spring semester was their Optimist speeches. Each student in the class was required to write a speech for a contest held by the Optimist Club, a club that hosts oratorical competitions. The club has multiple branches that judge student speeches. Not only was the contest open to students in Kennedy’s class, but anyone under the age of 19 could compete. There were multiple rounds of competition including the club, zone, district, regional, and international levels (“Optimist International Oratorical Competition”).
The speech itself was a graded class assignment. Throughout the writing process, Kennedy helped her students brainstorm, organize, and practice their speeches. This year, the theme is “Is there a fine line between optimism and reality?” and the speeches are required to be within four to five minutes. Additionally, the students did not receive time cues during their presentations. Instead, they had to rely on their previous practice to make sure they stayed within the time range. The first round of competition took place at the school.
“We brought in guest judges [to class] to judge, and they narrowed it down to the top seven. Those seven then went to a contest in a local church, and they ran the speech contest,” said Kennedy.
After the second round at the church, the top three were chosen. Benton Waters, a junior from Manheim Township High School, received first place, moving on to the next round and winning a prize of $250; his topic revolved around the idea of a saying his grandfather always lived by, “every day is a holiday,” an optimistic idea. The speech delves into the idea that realistically, every day cannot always be as great as Christmas, the example he uses throughout. Other topics from students in the class included high school shootings and how to stay optimistic in this reality, personal experiences or battles they faced. One student, Monse Espinoza, even wrote about her life in Mexico and her experience coming to the United States.
“I left my parents last year to come back to the United States to have a better education. In Mexico, there is not a great education. I had to face reality and being optimistic also helped me be independent and learn what it’s like to be on your own” said Espinoza, a junior at Manheim Township.
Espinoza was selected for the top seven after the initial presentation in class. Before the second round, Espinoza was nervous to spill her life story to complete strangers. Once she got in front of the crowd, she felt more confident.
“I had my speech memorized, so I think that helped me a lot” said Espinoza.
Even though Espinoza did not move on to the next round, she found that this experience was extremely rewarding and allowed her to open up about her story. The third round, the District competition, was held on April 27th in Reading. Waters placed first out of 13 other competitors. Over the summer, the contest comes to a close with the International competition, held July 18th-20th. The Optimist Club will pay for Waters and a parent to be flown down to Saint Louis University, for a chance to win the grand prize of a $15,000 scholarship.