“A Well Earned Win”

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.

28 thoughts on ““A Well Earned Win”

  1. congratulations to you but also to everyone else who went through 8th grade to learn that “skill” – I have a rather monotone voice so apparently I drag on. And I’m only vaguely good at memorising…

    here in NZ they have Toastmaster clubs – many people end up staying on board all their lives….I just checked the web, appear to the be worldwide.

    My niece belongs to one, and she said the “5minutes on a subject, thrown at someone” is always fun but difficult. I remember once I had to stay overnight at her place and she had all these little bits of paper with words on them…and she asked “did I want to come” – I didn’t but it appeared that they were all thoroughly entertained – you took a slip of paper and that was your 5 minute topic.

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  2. I was in the school quiz team at the age of 10. We competed in the South London Schools Quiz, and won! The trophy went to the school though, so I don’t have it.
    As for oratory, I had no training or experience. But then I became a union organiser in my early thirties, and was ‘thrust’ onto the stage. I took my guidance in public speaking from Lenin. He always seemed to inspire his audience.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. This is right out of my playbook. When I started high school, I was painfully shy, having just moved halfway across the country. Public speaking is something that scared the hell out of me, but after I conquered that fear, my confidence rose to new heights. I remembered that lesson. When I became a teacher, I gave students plenty of safe and supportive opportunities to practice this skill.

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    1. I remember that we were very courteous no matter how imperfect any given reader of speaker were in front of the class. Bullying was really not a big part of my education.

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  4. After reading your post, I can tell it was a well deserved award. The training alone has huge benefits. No pain, no gain. It does sound like a topic that could have been controversial, but ‘back in the day’ people had more respect listening to other people’s ideas. Super post, Elizabeth.

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  5. Although it was stressful for you at the time, Elizabeth, you were fortunate to have these public speaking opportunities. I had very few during my school career and it was years before I was confident speaking in public. I still don’t like it much. My sons have the same experience with public speaking you had and I am glad.

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