Above you can see the trophy from 1961 that I was awarded for first place in the school oratory contest. Thinking about competitions and winning and losing, I go back to that time at the end of 8th grade. I won that contest, but it took many hours of thinking, researching, writing and rehearsing to do so.
From the beginning of the school year we knew we would be participating in the annual oratory contest. Much of our education from the earliest years involved memorizing, whether of poetry, speeches or our own pieces. We had also had years of standing in front of the class to present these words. But 8th grade raised the stakes to a new level, giving a speech to the whole student body and invited parents. Then the winner had to repeat the speech at graduation.
The school made sure we were prepared. Each week in 8th grade presented new speech exercises. Most amusing were the extemporaneous five minute talks. Mr. Goodrich would give us a word and we needed to speak about it for five minutes. I will never forget the challenge of talking about a can opener for that length of time. Of course we were equally entertained by the five minute speeches of our classmates on paper clips, Dixie cups and sweaters.
Eventually we had to give our own talks every week. These had to be written out and then memorized. We were graded on content and presentation week after week. It never occurred to us to complain. This was how we always knew it would be in 8th grade. Finally we wrote and practiced our ten minute entry for the contest. I spoke on “The Value of a College Education for Women,” which unbelievably in retrospect was still being debated in 1961. And as you can see, I won. No one argued with the judges and no parents complained. Calmer times for sure.
I have been forever grateful for the training in oratory in front of a large group. It gave me the courage to address City Council, the School Board, zoning hearings, and my church community. And of course, as you can see from my 59 year treasuring of the trophy, I am proud I won.