Sophomores succeed at Speakers’ Forum

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On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Kingswood Oxford Upper School students gathered in Roberts Theater for the annual Speakers’ Forum finals. Every year, students in the sophomore class participate in this three-week interpretive reading unit that begins in their English classes and culminates with a final competition in front of the whole school. 

Taking the first place spot was sophomore Raine Wang, followed by sophomore Nidhi Bhat in second. In third place was sophomore Julia Sohn, sophomore Abbie Schiff in fourth place, and sophomore Francesca Lamattina in fifth place. 

The Speakers’ Forum tradition began over 25 years ago when longtime English teacher and Forensic Union advisor, Robert Googins, wanted to bring public speaking into the classroom. English Department Chair Catherine Schieffelin talked about the benefits of the Speaker Forum. “I love the way that the Speakers’ Forum allows English classes to connect with Forensic Union students either in giving feedback to students, or having Forensic Union officers judge at semifinals or judge at finals,” she said.

Ever since then, sophomores have participated in Speakers’ Forum every year, usually in the spring. However, this year, the English department moved the Speakers’ Forum to the fall. This move was made with hesitation as teachers were worried that students wouldn’t be comfortable enough in their English classes yet to perform in front of them. However, the English department’s worries were eased with the positive feedback regarding this year’s Speakers’ Forum that came from the sophomores.

This year’s finalists included Francesca, reading a passage from “Ariadne” by Jennifer Saint; Nidhi, reading an excerpt from “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson; Abbie, reading a passage from the short story “Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle” by David Sedaris; Julia reading an excerpt from “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, and Raine reading the poem “In the Exclusion Zone” by Melanie Rae Thon. However, the path to the finals was not an easy one for any of these five finalists.  

The Speakers’ Forum process consists of three rounds, the first occurring in the sophomores’ respective English classes. Each student chose a passage from any work of fiction that was four to six minutes long, to interpertviely read to their English classes. The only requirements were that the piece had to be a published work of fiction and contain literary merit. Many students ended up choosing a piece they loved so that they would not become bored with it throughout the unit. “I chose it [my piece] because it’s my favorite poem and I think it also speaks about something that’s kind of painful and reading it feels very emotional,” Raine said.

Every day in class leading up to the first round of performances, sophomores practiced their pieces in front of their peers. In addition, students spent time writing introductions for the pieces they selected and watching past performances to get a better understanding of what their readings should be like.

During the first round, students were scored by their peers using a rubric that scored them on their introduction, the polish of their piece, their understanding of the passage, voice quality, diction, literary merit, the appeal of selection, and overall quality of the reading. The scores given to each student are averaged and the two students in each class with the highest scores moved on to the semifinal round. 

The semifinals occurred after school on Tuesday, Nov. 8 in front of a select panel of judges who scored the competitors on the same criteria as the first round. The five students who earned the highest scores in the semifinals were selected to move on to the finals. 

The finals were the most challenging, as they would be performing in front of the entire Upper School, both the students and faculty. “I’m  not really into public speaking, so the concept of getting up there and talking was probably the biggest challenge for me to overcome,” Raine said. However, these five finalists were all able to overcome their nerves and delivered excellent readings. 

After the finalists concluded their readings, the panel of judges consisting of media arts teacher Greg Scranton, former English teacher Ron Monroe, Spanish teacher Ron Garcia, senior Forensic Union members Frank Pu and Johnny Kung tallied their scores while seniors Luke Roen and Manu Narasimhan entertained the audience with their comical bickering. 

After a few minutes of deliberation amongst the judges, the winners were revealed and presented with their plaques. 

Overall, the annual Speakers’ Forum finals were definitely a success for both the performers and the audience!