One of the most anticipated events of the spring and the culmination of the public-speaking curriculum that begins with the ninth grade Leadership Story, the Senior Speech Contest provides all seniors with an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the School during their final weeks at Blair. On Monday, May 15, Blair’s soon-to-be newest class of graduates took a moment to reflect on their time on the hilltop and the moments in their lives that brought them to this point. It was an opportunity to address the community that has supported them through their journey of self-discovery for one of the last times. With a broad mandate in terms of speech content, students discussed who they are, revealed an interest or goal, speculated on life or revisited something meaningful.
“Our hope is that seniors have developed a sharpened sense of identity during their time at Blair and are able to articulately express that identity in a public setting,” Doug Compton, English teacher and Master of Ceremonies for the evening, explained. “The purpose of this assignment is to render that self-awareness, whether previously expressed in writing or produced for the purpose of this assignment alone, in a formal, spoken format. Indeed, while the written content is an important component of this effort, the Senior Speech Contest is primarily a speaking competition.”
In the lead up to Monday evening, students delivered their individual speeches in English classes and their teacher decided, with the aid of student recommendations, the best one to represent each section in the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts’ DuBois Theatre. Michael Beydoun ’23 admitted the hardest part of the process was not the delivery, but actually writing his speech about the struggles he faced in his community at home, drafting it as though he was having a conversation with someone and eventually trimming it down to fit within the time parameters of the contest without losing any meaning.
“When I took the stage, I was nervous for my first paragraph but as I got going, I never wanted to stop because I was having so much fun,” Michael said. “In the end, it was easy because I found something I was passionate about.”
One by one, the students took the stage to revel in their own moment and share their story with a common goal: make the audience feel something. Throughout the evening, students and faculty cheered as the orators rose to the occasion. They smiled at their witty remarks and laughed at their clever jokes, always offering a round of applause at each speech’s conclusion.
“The Senior Speech Contest is one of my favorite Blair traditions because it gives our students the opportunity to share with the community their life experiences and how much they have grown and changed during their time here,” said Head of School Peter G. Curran. “A number of this year’s speeches focused on belonging and connection to classmates and teachers, which was especially moving and poignant as our seniors get ready to join our alumni ranks. We couldn’t be prouder of all they have accomplished and can’t wait to applaud all of their successes moving forward.”
After her moving speech about the self-identity associated with one’s name, Sydney Beitler ’23 took a moment to echo Mr. Curran’s sentiments and thank one of those teachers who helped her on her journey to the stage one final time. “I think that the Senior Speech Contest is such a great Blair tradition,” Sydney said. “I have to thank my English teacher, Mr. Moore, who has been monumental in my growth as a writer this year. It was because of him I was able to take the lessons I have learned and the experiences I have been through and express those into words. Thank you, Mr. Moore, and thank you, Blair Academy, for all of the amazing opportunities this year.”
After a week of anticipation, Mr. Compton announced the winners at School Meeting as graduation week commenced. Chosen by a “celebrity” list of faculty judges, Tobenna Esomeju ’23 won first place with his captivating narrative about finding those “dandelion moments” in life and cherishing them, while Michael Beydoun came in second and Ava Satasi ’23 received third. “It was one of the best portfolios of speeches I have witnessed in my nine years,” Mr. Compton said.