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Local students advance in oratorical contest
Thea Valencia 5th Grader from Brandywine Elementary is presented with her first place trophy at the annual Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club oratory contest - photo by Jim Dean

On Thursday, the Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club hosted finals and semi-finals for their annual oratory contest. 

At the event , ten fifth graders and 12 middle and high schoolers got up in front of their family and friends at the Forsyth County Courthouse and presented the crowd a personal speech, using anecdotes and stories to answer the question:  “Where the roots of their optimism come from.”

At the end of the night 12 students participating were chosen as finalists, the fifth grade winners received trophies from the club, and the middle and high school winners received a $500 reward and the chance to advance to further competitions.

According to Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club Oratorical Coordinator Joyce Mullins, the contest has been a part of the Optimist Club for as long as they have been a group, and they see it as their duty to reward and encourage the development of public speaking skills in students.  

“It builds their confidence, it builds their writing skills, it builds a lot of things, because a lot of kids have never gotten up and spoken before, and never thought that they would,” Mullins said.

“We have had students come back to us from past years and tell us how much it meant for them and their careers,” she said.

Mullins said they regularly find that students who participate in the event realize they actually like speaking and come back to participate in the event as long as they can.

“We have had some students compete every year in high school,” she said.

“Just for our club, with the schools we have done, there were over 2,700 participants. So, these are the cream of the crop,” Mullins said to the crowd before handing out awards.

This year at the elementary level, Thea Valencia from Brandywine Elementary and Lucas Martin from Cornerstone Schools won first place. First and second runners up included Ansley Christon from Brookwood Elementary School, Evelyn Higginbotham from Settles Bridge Elementary School, Evan Lopez from Vickery Creek Dlementary, and Joel Apinis from Brandywine Elementary School .

“I was a little bit surprised when they announced my name,” said 11-year-old Thea Valencia. “I’m really happy and I’m really proud and I can’t wait to tell my parents.”

Valencia said that she was nervous to speak at first but she quickly grew more and more confident as she got into the body of her speech.

“I was a little bit nervous, but when I started talking I became a little more comfortable and forgot that it was a competition,” Valencia said.

Lucas Martin, the boy winner, said that he had prepared a lot for the finals.

“I prepared for about a month, and practiced it 15 times a day,” Martin said.

The event was presided over by Gary Beard, past Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club president. He echoed Mullins, commenting on how vital it was to train youth to be calm and confident when speaking and presenting.

“They will lead someday, so it’s very important that we bring them up in a proper was so they can handle that,” he said.

Finals for the middle and high school level of the Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club oratorical contest will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the Bennett Training Room of Northside Hospital Forsyth.

Semi-finalists included: Daphne Tremps from Piney Grove Middle School, Will Andrews from Otwell Middle School, Alayna Daws and Grier Friedman from West Forsyth High School, Harshi Palakruthy and Bryan Tejano from Vickery Creek Middle School.

From left to right, Thea Valencia from Brandywine Elementary, Evelyn Higginbotham from Settles Bridge Elementary School, Ansley Christon from Brookwood Elementary School, Joel Apinis from Brandywine Elementary School, Evan Lopez from Vickery Creek Dlementary and Lucas Martin from Cornerstone Schools. - photo by Jim Dean