The following high school students received scholarships from the Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club:
Source: Optimist Club— Kayla Elizabeth Brown, Carina Castillo and Kelli Mitchell
— Kelly Nicole Conners— Lindsay Burnell — Jennifer Bridges and Kennedy Kobble— Lily Long
A rising sophomore at Lambert High School recently won first place at the state level of the Optimist International Oratorical Contest.
Jessica Gerber, 15, received a $2,500 scholarship for being the top female speaker on the prompt: "If I were leader of the free world, the first issue I would address would be."
"I talked about the economy," Gerber said. "I basically focused on the fact that overspending is kind of an epidemic."
In her five-minute speech, Gerber also presented some solutions to the problem, such as instituting a home economics class that focuses students on mortgages, spending and other financial issues.
She said her choice may have seemed "uncompassionate" compared to other students’ speeches, which focused on love and humanitarianism.
Gerber took a more practical approach.
"In order to fix any of the other problems, you have to start with enough money to fix them," she said.
Her favorite line in the speech was a quote by Benjamin Franklin: "Think what you do when you run in debt, you give to another power over your liberty."
Gerber recited the line without hesitation. At this point, she said she’s given the speech more than 30 times.
After qualifying at the school level, Gerber went on to compete locally through the Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club, which tapped her and Ryan McWilliams, a South Forsyth High School student, for the next round.
Gerber then won at the zone and regional levels before advancing to the state competition for the first time.
She first participated in the contest as a fifth-grader following a class assignment to write a speech. She then entered on her own for the next four years.
Gerber, who also takes ballet, said she’s never shied away from performing or public speaking.
She’s enjoyed entering the competition each year and catching up with the local Optimist Club members.
"They’re just so sweet, love you to death and always recognize you," she said. "You only see them once a year so they’re always like, ‘Oh, you’ve grown so much.’
"I’ve improved my speaking skills, but that doesn’t compare to the people I’ve met … It’s just been an awesome growing experience."
Gerber was recognized by the club at its Thursday meeting, along with the organization’s eight high school scholarship winners.
Member Roger Dunn said the local club has held the oratorical competition for decades and has had three or four state winners.
This year, about 3,200 students in the county prepared and gave speeches.
Gerber’s involvement each year likely pushed her to the state victory, said Dunn, adding that he expects bright things for her future.
"I think she’ll be one of our leaders," he said.