The Optimist Inside — 2023 ACC Oratorical Contest

Shangwen Cheng, Staff Reporter

A collage of photos taken from the night of the competition. via Ms. McFarlane’s twitter.

      After the school building emptied out the evening of Tuesday, April 25th, the Commons was transformed by tablecloths, purple flowers, candles, and neat rows of chairs, all facing the stage. Tenth-grade English students gathered in formal wear, hands shuffling index cards covered in notes. This is the Oratorical Contest, the culmination of over a month of hard work in which students planned, wrote, and memorized speeches on one prompt: “Discovering the Optimism Within Me.”

      You may be surprised to find out that many of the contestants didn’t initially consider themselves optimists before undertaking this prompt. Cody Finnegan even recalls that “When I told my dad I had to write and recite a speech on optimism, he laughed in my face at the thought of it.” Many speeches spoke not of the happy parts of life, but of bitter struggles with mental health and school, internal and external conflicts alike. “I’m still learning how to think about the positives while not dwelling on the negatives,” Sheel Shah explains.

      Standing up in front of a crowd of both strangers and family members can be a daunting task. “I think everyone was at least a little nervous,” Sheel says, “but nobody let that stop them.” These students handled themselves with poise, delivering thoughtful and moving words. “The beginning of my speech was shaky,” Cody admits. “But somewhere around the middle, I took a break and looked around the audience. I saw so many faces looking at me with so much genuine interest and emotion. And when I saw Mr. Nystrom smiling eerily, I […] suddenly felt so strongly that people cared. They were listening to me.”

      All of the students seemed to find it a fulfilling experience. “It was nice to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn more about myself,” Anna Litwiller says. Cody agrees, explaining that “Apart from giving me valuable experience [in] public speaking, [the experience] forced me to remind myself that everything has a silver lining.”

      If you’ll be a tenth grader next year and you’re reading this article, consider participating in the Oratorical Contest. “You might not necessarily be thrilled about doing it—you might be scared like I was—but if you have thoughts that you have been keeping buried, I guarantee you that eventually, you will be glad you confronted it,” Cody advises. “Highly recommend this,” Anna agrees. “[It] gets you out and talking, in addition to being profitable monetarily.” As an added bonus, it can also qualify as community service hours. These students have taken away a valuable lesson in optimism, in addition to sharing their views with others. Perhaps you’ll be next.

 People interviewed:

Cody Finnegan

Sheel Shah

Anna Litwiller