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DOWNEY - Debora Jeong, a diminutive tenth grader from Warren High School, strode to the podium, paused for just a moment, and in a surprisingly strong and clear voice proceeded to explain to a distinguished panel of judges why her voice was important.
In a speech that lasted just over four minutes, the 16-year-old young leader from the Warren Humanitarian Society so impressed the judges that she won first place and a $1,000 prize in the inaugural Optimist Club Oratorical Contest, held last Wednesday on the campus of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.
Debora wasn't alone in impressing the judging panel, composed of community leader Beverly Mathis and former Downey mayors Meredith Perkins and Bob Winningham. Debbie Tomlinson, Rancho's Director of Volunteer and Support Services, was the official timekeeper for the competition.
"I know all these students because they volunteer at Rancho, yet I saw a different side of them today, performing in a new arena but emerging triumphant nonetheless," Debbie said.
"I was amazed by the quality of the ideas I heard from the students," Beverly said. "Every one who competed impressed us with their courage in standing on their own two feet and delivering a speech they had created themselves.
"It was inspiring to see these wonderful young people in action."
In addition to Debora, other winners included Ricky Amanero (second place and $500), Alyssa Moreno (third place and $400), Jessica Lee (fourth place and $300), Paul Lim (fifth place and $200) and Julia Phan (sixth place and $100). Lily Montes and Ankur Papneja earned honorable mention.
The competition was open to the nearly 200 members of the Warren Humanitarian Society, which is affiliated with the Optimist Club of Downey. Debora and Ricky advance to the Optimist International Area Competition.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the presentations," Meredith said. "I salute their commitment and their perseverance, and I know that each of these remarkable young people will make a big impact in their community in the future."
"These are our future leaders, and they certainly made us all proud of them in this competition," Bob said. "I remember how terrifying public speaking was when I was their age, and I admire each of them for a job well done."
Here is Debora's speech on the topic "Why is My Voice Important?" in its entirety. As you read her words, imagine the passion of a teenager who is on a mission to make a difference in the world, and you will feel the power of her message:
"What is a voice? Is it just a sound produced by the vibration of your vocal chords or is it a weapon, a powerful tool that you can use for current and future issues? Hello, my name is Debora Jeong and I believe that my voice is important.
"I am a very opinionated individual and I like to put a lot of thought into my decisions. I encourage people around me to do the same. I believe that the best decisions come from a larger group of people who all voice their opinions. The best decisions made for specific issues are widely debated and studied. In society, it is important to work together and rely on each other's voices.
"My voice is important because I refuse to blindly follow orders that I believe are wrong. When I experience poor leadership, it is hard for me to stay quiet and I voice my opinions. Even if sometimes my opinions are turned down, I am glad that the issue was at least debated to some degree, and that I can be sure that the decision my team and I made was the best one that we could make.
"Everyone is unique and different in their own ways. Therefore, their voices are different from one another. It is important that I voice my thoughts because my ideas are different from other people's ideas. When I voice my opinions, what was only just an idea can become a solution, what was only just a thought can become the foundation, and what was once only a quiet belief can sound a loud revolution.
"Our forefathers spoke out and fought a revolution because they believed that freedom of speech was worth sacrificing thousands of lives. It takes only one voice to make a difference. Too many people use their voices to complain about the world, instead of using their voices to change it. My voice can relieve the minds of some people, and even frustrate the minds of others. But no one voice can satisfy everyone.
"My voice is important because I don't look to satisfy, but I look for the best solution possible. Sometimes, one voice can be against the majority of other, stronger voices. My hero and example is Martin Luther King Jr. He was one voice that spoke out although there were more powerful, more vicious voices against him. He spoke and touched the hearts of millions of people. He definitely made a dent in this world, not using violence, but his voice.
"Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better." He said that a minority of people can make the world better rather than the majority. Even if my one voice is a minority compared to the large majority of people in this world, I am creative and dedicated to what I believe in. I believe that my one voice is important because sometimes what the majority of people think is wrong, and one voice, one person needs to stand up and speak out.
"There are so many terrible influences in this world. Growing up as a teenager these days can be difficult because we are often compromised with so many different voices telling us what is wrong and what is right and it is hard to find our own voice.
"My voice is important because then I can speak and hear myself instead of being drowned in the constant voices and opinions of others. When I speak out, I can form my own opinion and have my own identity. Our voices no matter how small it seems, contributes to our community. My voice is important, his voice is important, and your voice is important.
"Like Martin Luther King Jr., I want to live up to my fullest potential and make a dent in this world, with my education as my foundation, and my voice as my weapon.
"A professor from USC once said, 'I do not believe that one single person can change the world. But one single person can definitely make a dent in this universe. And when we all join together and when we all make our own, individual dents in this universe, then that, that will change the world."
After the competition was over, Debora summed up her feelings: "I was overjoyed and excited when I found out that I had won the oratorical contest. We were all very nervous before presenting our speeches. It feels great winning this oratorical speech as a sophomore. Many people seemed surprised, but I don't believe that age plays a big role in how well one can perform. I think that anyone who is confident and comfortable with the subject can do fabulously.
"My fellow club members all did amazingly well, and I am not only thankful for winning, but that I was given this opportunity to be able to experience giving a speech," she said. "We don't do this in school, and I want to thank everyone who put on this speech contest and invited the Warren Humanitarian Society to compete.
"It has been a great experience, and although I am not very good, I understand I can only get better," Debora said. "Through this invaluable experience, I want to learn to be more prepared and comfortable in front of large groups of people. I want to be confident and trust myself when I am behind the podium speaking publicly. Next time I compete, I will not be nervous. I will be excited to do my very best!"
Published: April 25, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 02