Speakers’ Forum finalists compete

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After three weeks of preparation and two preliminary rounds, five sophomores took the podium in Roberts Theatre on April 12 to compete in the finals of the Speakers’ Forum competition. Out of the 91 competitors, sophomore Olivia Pear came out on top.

Started by former English teacher and forensic union advisor, Robert Googins, the Speakers’ Forum competition has been going on for 25 years at KO and is a part of the Form Four English curriculum that students and faculty alike look forward to.

Speakers’ Forum is made up of three rounds, and participation is required for all sophomore English students. “It usually takes two to three weeks to get through the Speakers’ Forum part of the curriculum,” English teacher and Speakers’ Forum coordinator Ron Monroe said.

All sophomore students start by selecting a published work of fiction or poetry. Passages must have “literary merit” and take approximately four to six minutes to read.

Many sophomores found this to be the most challenging part of the process. “It was difficult to choose what piece to pick because I didn’t know if I wanted to go the funny, sad, or scary route,” sophomore Shreeya Chalikonda said.

Olivia, the first place winner, used an interesting strategy to choose her piece, “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman. “I picked my piece by reading through the climactic moments of books out loud,” Olivia said. “I ended up choosing one of my all time favorite books because I have a really strong emotional connection to it, and it means a lot to me.”

After choosing their pieces, students dove into writing their introductions and practicing their passages. The sophomore class all prepared in different ways. “I annotated my story so I knew where to emphasize or slow down,” sophomore semi-finalist Sydney Smith said. Sophomore Adam Paszczuk utilized online resources to help him learn his piece. “I prepared by watching other renditions of what I would be saying,” Adam said.  

In the preliminary classroom round, students were graded by both their teachers and their peers. The two students with the highest combined average from each class moved on to the semi-finals.

They were judged on seven categories: quality and helpfulness of introduction, polish, and familiarity with work, understanding of selection, voice quality, diction, quality of delivery, and appeal of selection.

Sophomore English teachers all agree that standing in front of your class and delivering a four to six-minute reading is no easy task. “Standing up and doing that in front of your peers can be nerve-racking, but is ultimately a really good experience,” English teacher David Hild said.  English teacher William Martino said he agreed with Mr. Hild and was impressed with the student’s eagerness to perform. “I was just so proud of everyone getting up there,” Mr. Martino said.

The selected semifinalists gathered in Tomasso on Tuesday, April 9 for the second round of competition.

These semifinalists were sophomores Lily Brezenoff, Sydney Dwyer, Braden Flowers, Isabella Herz, Izzy Jacobson, Jaden Paladino, Emma Henry, Olivia Pear, Ethan Raisner, Issy Rome, Sydney Smith, Brie Toedt, Chris Morris, Isabel Berkemeyer, Jaden Weinstein, Sadie Margolis, and Tori Swanson. A panel of four teachers, judged this round of competition. Ethan said this round felt almost the same as the first round. “The semi-finals were not very different from in the classroom,” Ethan said. “I prepared the same way and I think I said my piece the same way I did the first time.”

After votes were tallied up, Chris Morris, Isabel Berkemeyer, Emma Henry, Olivia Pear, and Sadie Margolis were headed to the finals. However, due to a prior commitment, Sadie was unable to participate in the finals and her spot was given to Tori Swanson. The finals were emceed by Elan Stadelman, junior member of the Forensic Union. He introduced each speaker and entertained the audience with anecdotes of his time on Forensic Union.

All five contestants delivered polished and passionate readings in front of the entire Upper School in Roberts Theater. Emma read a basketball game scene from “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Isabel and Chris both read a passage from the novel, “The Hate You Give,” which depicts police brutality and African American youth in America.

Tori read a stirring piece from “If I Stay,” a novel about a girl trapped in a coma. Lastly, Olivia read an exciting excerpt from “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.”

With the results in, Tori came in fifth place, Chris came in fourth place, Isabel came in third place, Emma placed second and Olivia took first place. Olivia and Emma both described the experience as fun, but also slightly stressful. “It was nerve-racking until I got up to the podium,” Olivia said, “then I kind of just blacked out for a solid six minutes.”

All in all, Form Four seemed to find  the Speakers’ Forum to be a unique experience that was both challenging and fun.

“This whole experience might have been one of my favorite things all year,” Mr. Martino said.