Classrooms: Dramatic orators shine at Smith Academy’s Declamation public speaking contest

  • Abigail Pedersen was the ninth runner-up at this year’s Declamation Awards at Smith Academy. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Karlie Guimond finished in third place at this year’s Declamation Awards at Smith Academy. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 4/16/2019 6:27:35 PM

HATFIELD — What makes a speech so powerful? What about the way the Gettysburg Address was written still resonates with us today? How did the way Martin Luther King Jr. spoke make America stop and listen?

Smith Academy juniors could tell you. The high school recently held its 146th annual Declamation public speaking contest, a time-honored tradition for third-year students at the school.

During their sophomore year, all students enroll in a public speaking class where they begin preparations for the Declamation. The sophomores read movie monologues, practice writing and develop skills in the art of giving a speech.

In their junior years, students write and perfect their speeches in advance of the competition each spring.

This year, 31 students presented their work in front of judges from the Hatfield Book Club, a community member and a previous Declamation participant.

Smith Academy English teacher Jason Duncan helped run the program this year. He said the students know in advance what criteria the judges would be looking for.

“Content construction, delivery and poise at the podium when they are speaking,” he said.

The judges pick the top eight students, who then deliver their speeches to the public in a separate evening event. The ninth runner-up becomes the emcee for the evening, and fills in if one of their peers cannot make it.

Three finalists win cash prizes of $100, $50 and $25, donated by the Hatfield Book Club.

Riley DiPillo came in first place this year, delivering a speech entitled, “Lost,” a tribute to his sister who died.

Duncan said DiPillo spoke about how, “People perhaps unknowingly and insensitively use expressions like ‘this is killing me’ or ‘I am going to kill myself because I hate this class,’” and how these words affect someone who has experienced real loss.

Abigail Pedersen, who finished second, spoke about ending the stigma around mental health, while Karlie Guimude won third place delivering a speech called, “Family is Everything.”

“They can speak about anything they want, the only guideline is to keep the audience in mind,” Duncan said.

The Declamation has a lengthy history. It his thought to be the longest-running speech contest on this side of the Mississippi River, it began with Sophia Smith herself, the founder of Smith College.

Duncan also noted how this contest is not ideal for every junior, but he believes it is a valuable experience.

“Certainly not all kids go on to be public speakers, but you have things like college interviews and job interviews and you might have a job when you’re going to have to deliver presentations,” he said. “They can overcome it (their fear) if they just put their mind to it.”

As a teacher and a coach, he said that public speaking is a huge part of his life and will help the students in the future.

“Being able to present yourself in an eloquent way to other people is certainly not a bad skill to have,” Duncan said.




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