It’s said that the fear of public speaking tops the list of the world’s most common phobias. That may be true for many of us, but it was decidedly not true for the 24 fourth- and fifth-grade students who recited their original essays at the semifinals of the 25th annual Gardere MLK Oratory Competition held Tuesday, Dec. 6.
An attentive and appreciative audience appeared to mostly include the students’ families, teachers, coaches and principals. During the two hours of speeches, the audience showed almost reverent attention to the orators who recited their original essays on the topic, “If Dr. King were alive today, what would he say about the contributions of the late Muhammad Ali?”
Not only were most of the young speakers confident, they were passionate about their topic, taking center stage with an air of confidence a professional speaker might envy. As for their thoughts about Dr. King’s opinion of Muhammad Ali, most said Dr. King would have been quite proud of Ali’s commitment to his religious beliefs, his unswerving self-confidence and his disdain for racism and prejudice.
Again and again, the young speakers pointed out that, like Dr. King, Muhammad Ali was a man of integrity who stood up for others and spoke out against injustice, traveling the world as an ambassador of intercultural understanding. Even facing jail time and the loss of his Olympic medals for refusing to fight in the Vietnam war, Ali never gave up, said the students, but instead continued to defend his ideals, ultimately recovering his medals and becoming an international philanthropist and iconic ambassador for peace.
As the last speaker took her seat and the judges retired to select the finalists, the audience seemed to relax with relief that the task of selecting the best eight speakers was not theirs, but rather fell to four seasoned Gardere attorneys. After about 20 minutes of deliberation, the judges emerged with the announcement of eight finalists, throwing the room into chaos as supporters rushed to give hugs and kudos to those who braved the spotlight to say their piece for peace.
The finalists, selected from 160 students who participated in their in-school competitions, will recite their essays in the competition finals at 11 a.m., Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, at the Majestic Theater. The finalists are pictured from left:
- Lola West, K.B. Polk Center for the Academically Talented and Gifted
- Jace Roberson, J.P. Starks Math, Science & Technology Vanguard
- Ashley Patterson, Harry C. Withers Elementary
- Jordan Mays, T.L. Marsalis Elementary
- Asad King, William Brown Miller Elementary
- Sierra Jones, Charles Rice Learning Center
- Taneka Ervin, Clara Oliver Elementary
- Andrea Botho Frederick Douglass Elementary