By Curt Yeomans
Morrow High School freshman, Celeste Stephens, used to doubt her speaking skills when she began preparing for her class' "I Stand Oratorical Competition" earlier this year.
She thought there were better speakers in her class, and did not expect to advance beyond her classmates. Then, Stephens, who is also the ninth-grade class president at her school, took a gamble and decided to put it all on the line with her speech about difficulties in her family.
The 16-year-old won first place in her class competition, earning the right to be one of her school's representatives at the first-ever "I Stand County Oratorical Competition" at Morrow High School on Thursday.
She won first place in that competition as well.
"I decided I would give it my all, just to see how it would turnout, and it turned good -- it turned out great, actually," Stephens said.
During the competitions, participants -- all of whom are ninth-graders -- stand up in front of their peers, parents, teachers and administrators and spend approximately three minutes telling the audience what they stand for, according to competition organizer James Scarborough. Scarborough is a ninth-grade literature teacher at Morrow High School, and the founder of the "I Stand" competition.
The competitions start at the school level, with the top two students in each class advancing to the county competition. Because the event is new, there were only two high schools -- Morrow and Lovejoy -- represented on Thursday.
"The purpose of this competition is to give the students an opportunity to explain what they stand for," Scarborough said. "A lot of time, students aren't given an opportunity to express themselves in school. They come in at the beginning of the school year, and we tell them, 'OK, read this book, this book, and this book.' Nobody really takes time to listen to what they think."
In addition to Stephens, the other top speakers in the contest were: Lovejoy High School ninth-grader, Cherakee Jones (second-place), and Morrow High School ninth-grader, Kahlenn Russell (third-place). There were 12 students, overall, who participated in the competition, according to Scarborough.
Stephens said she chose to speak about her family situation and difficulties members of the family have faced, because she believed it would help her understand what other people are going through. During her speech, she walked back and forth across the stage, wearing her grandmother's glasses. She emphasized words strongly, from time to time, to stress her point. She also used a conversational style, repeating the word "You," to refer to the nameless person to whom she was talking.
"I think I stand for everybody, because everybody is going through something, and I can relate to that," she said.
Scarborough, who is Stephens' literature teacher, said that despite the oratory competition winner's fiery speech, she is actually a quiet, and, somewhat, reserved pupil in the classroom. "She adds to the classroom when we have class discussions, but she's pretty quiet, to be honest with you," the teacher said.
When Stephens was announced as the winner, though, she giddily ran around the room, with a big smile on her face. She ran up to each of the 10 judges, who happened to be Morrow High School teachers, and gave them hugs.