I had the wonderful opportunity Monday morning to be a judge for the Gullett Elementary 4-H Tropicana Speech Contest.
The contest is sponsored by Tropicana and provides teachers with classroom materials for educating kids about the art of public speaking.
It was my first time being a "judge" for anything, but I felt honored to be included.
I was sympathetic for the kids stepping up to the microphone because of my experiences as a spelling bee participant (I won first place at the state competition for private schools in the eighth grade , but I avoid sharing that fact so that people don't constantly ask me how to spell things).
The fourth and fifth graders fidgeted in their seats in a semicircle on stage in the cafeteria. One-by-one they shuffled up to the microphone to speak on topics of their choice.
Speeches varied from persuasive and informative to comedy sketches. No matter what the theme, each child was lively and confident.
Working with children has a way of instantly melting your inner critic. It was incredibly hard to judge this competition because it is never easy saying a kid has done something wrong or performed poorly.
I cringed every time a student went over the time limit or lost their place and had to back track, and I had to fight the urge to ignore their mistakes
However, they all presented well, and as in all competitions, there are a few that bubbled to the top.
First place went to fifth grader Hailey Wahlers, who spoke on how to give a good speech. The topic is not wildly out-of-the-box, but Whalers stood out as she combined humor with information. Wahlers also had one of the best conclusions.
"Remember these tips when giving your next speech, or you can just hire a speech writer. I'm available!"
Wahlers gets to represent Gullett Elementary at the county-wide competition May 11.
Second and third place went to Emilio Vega and Robby Goecker. If you remember their names, it is because they had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. earlier this month to help plant the White House kitchen garden with Michelle Obama.
Surprisingly, neither of them spoke on this topic.
Vega articulately spoke about his family vacation to Hawaii and did exceptionally well for any young student, let alone an English as a second language student.
Goecker spoke about how he believes athletes' salaries are unfairly high, an astute observation for a fifth grader.
While not everyone can come out with a medal, I do have some honorable mentions:
Shea Murphy, because her presentation was so animated. Her humorous speech about life before modern conveniences, such as plumbing, also included miming.
Austin Gobcynski, because his speech about looking though the windows of other people's cars while travelling was unique and creative, and I genuinely laughed aloud during his performance.
Jaquisha Barnes, because her speech was about the downside of being rich and famous. Principal Kathy Hayes said she has heard students deliver speeches about the desire to be famous, but never about its disadvantages.
Taylor Woodring, because she committed her entire speech to memory and did not use flashcards, resulting in excellent eye contact with the audience.
Ethan McDonald, for his speech "Things I Shouldn't Do in Public." The title alone...
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of this event. Every one of the 20 students today defeated one of the most common fears among people, which is speaking to a crowd.
Gullett Elementary plans on participating in the 4-H Tropicana Speech Contest again next year.