DOWNEY – Imagine you’re a high school student and your assignment is to deliver a four-minute speech in front of two former city mayors, a leading philanthropist, your faculty advisor and your fellow students. This very challenging task was exactly what awaited a dozen members of the Warren High School Humanitarian Society who competed for thousands of dollars in prizes in last Thursday’s Optimist Club of Downey Oratorical Contest.
Hosted by Mark Shelton and RioHondoEventCenter, the event provided students with an opportunity to speak about “How My Passions Impact the World,” the theme for Optimist Club oratorical contests throughout the world in 2014. The event judges included former Downey Mayors Meredith Perkins and Bob Winningham and local community leader Beverly Mathis.
“I don’t think I could have handled this kind of pressure when I was a high school student,” Beverly said, “but these kids were simply marvelous. They spoke clearly and their speeches contained compelling ideas that they communicated with great energy and enthusiasm.”
“After judging this contest last year, I thought I knew what to expect, yet these young people were so articulate and effective that I was totally blown away by the quality of their presentations,” Bob said.
Each of the participants came to a podium located just a dozen feet from the judges. Each looked the judges squarely in the eye as they delivered their speech. Each received loud applause from their fellow students as they stepped to the microphone, and when they completed their talk.
“I was very pleased to see how these students supported one another throughout the event,” Meredith said. “It made us all feel good to hear the cheering and see the camaraderie of these outstanding students, and I congratulate them and their advisor, Mrs. Jackie Pardo, for the mature and very classy way they handled themselves during the competition.
The most magical moments of the competition happened near the end, when Debora Jeong, the 11th of 12 participants, stepped to the podium. She set her speech down on the lectern, but instead of delivering it from there, she left her speech behind, walked to the front of the podium and delivered her entire presentation without notes.
“When Debora stepped around the podium, it was so unexpected and so powerful that you could feel the excitement throughout the room,” Beverly said. “And then she delivered the greatest speech I have ever heard from a young person, filled with power and passion. She literally held us in the palm of her hand. It was an experience I’ll treasure always.”
There were many other moments to remember, as both the students and adults present were moved to tears on a number of occasions by the highly effective and evocative presentations.
“I think it goes without saying that all of us in Downey are very proud of the work these kids do day in and day out to support so many important charitable activities in our city and beyond,” Meredith said. “Each of these students stood especially tall as they gave their presentations, and I speak for all the judges when I say that we are extremely proud of each and every one of them and the great work they did in this contest.”
The contest rules provided for first through sixth place awards, with the other six finalists slated to receive honorable mention. But the judges were so impressed with all the student speeches that they decided to give every student an award, declaring a seven-way tie for sixth place.
“These kids were so amazing that we felt every one was a winner,” Beverly said. “So we appealed to Optimist Club President Tom Burney to support our decision and he immediately approved it.”
“When the judges explained the incredible quality and effort that went into each of the student speeches, it was obvious that we take the extraordinary measure of awarding each of the participants a prize, and so we did,” Tom said.
The winners are being announced for the first time in this issue of The Downey Patriot. The winners (including their class standing in high school) are:
• First Place and a $1,000 prize — Debora Jeong (junior)
• Second Place and a $500 prize — Cristal Martinez (senior)
• Third Place and a $400 prize — Emely Lopez (junior)
• Fourth Place and a $300 prize — Angelique Franco (junior)
• Fifth Place and a $200 prize — Ricky Amenero (senior)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize — Melissa Pardo (senior)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize — Madelynn Rodriguez (senior)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize — Cristian Pardo (freshman)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize —Deniel Pardo (senior)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize — Mario Mendoza (senior)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize — Pedro Sanchez (junior)
• Sixth Place and a $100 prize — Andy Del Valle (junior)
Debora and Ricky, the top-rated girl and boy in the competition, will go on to represent Downey in Optimist International’s area-wide contest, which will be held April 22 in South Gate.
“I am so proud of each of the students for the way they supported one another throughout this process,” Mrs. Pardo said. “This was a great opportunity for the students to test themselves before these accomplished community leaders in a way they never could in school. Each and every one of the students shone brightly on this night.”
And now, in keeping with our tradition of spotlighting the winner of the Optimist Club Oratorical contest, here is the written version of Debora’s first place speech:
“A passion is a special thing, the only thing that can strengthen the fire inside of us. My world consists of school, home, family and friends. My passion is to encourage, elevate, and inspire other people by dedicating myself to good works. In other words, I am passionate for other people.
“A lot of people are afraid because they think that their passions are too small and irrelevant. A lot of people have been told that they need to be famous and do something monumental for their passions to matter.
“But I want you to think of the most important person or one of the most important people in your life. Usually, people say mom, dad, friend, sister, brother, wife, husband, etc. Family. And this is so interesting because when I ask people to name the most important person in the world, they say President Obama, Bill Gates, or some other famous or rich person. However, we all know that personally, the most important people in our lives are not well-known politicians or business leaders. The most important people are the ones we care about, the ones who instill passion in us.
“That special person is important to us not because he or she is perfect or iconic, but because we love him or her and are passionate for this person. Then why does society tell us and why do we believe that we need to be successful and powerful for our passions to be effective? Why do we have to have done something jaw dropping or amazing for our passions to be relevant? We need to remember that the special person who has the most effect in our lives is just one of us. And we can't imagine life without them. You are also someone else's reason for their passion and endurance. Others can't imagine life without you. So who's really important: the politician lobbying for status, or you?
“Everyone can agree that powerful historical figures such as Ghandi, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln were very effective people. Because they were effective, people know of their passions. Therefore people forget that passion comes first. First comes the passion, second the ambition, and then the action. Passion is inspired, ambition is gained, and action is a decision. All these people were first passionate because of an issue. They were on fire for something. The reason they were on fire may have not been unique, but their fire was unique. With this passion, they gained an ambition. They held on to a dream. And last but not least, they decided to act.
“To me, passion is not about sitting quietly, keeping every thought to myself and letting everything pass me by. Passion is about continuously searching for things to do, searching for dreams and ambitions to hold on to. True passion always results in action.
“We need to come out of our comfort zones and stretch out our arms. We have two arms to use. We bring people close to us with our left arm, and lift others up with our right. We continue this and hold on tightly to everyone until soon, we have a connection, a network of inspired, passionate people who are willing to take action for a unified ambition.
“I am striving for this passion to spread like wildfire and never burn out. I am passionate and hopeful for people to join together and act.
“My passion can impact my world. But our passions can impact everyone's world.”
After the competition was over, Optimist Club members Meredith Perkins and Sam Mathis hosted the students for dinner at McDonald’s on Paramount Boulevard, which was holding a fundraiser for the Exchange Club.
“Even when they go to dinner together, the members of the Warren Humanitarian Society find a way to help the community,” Bob said. “They are indeed a most remarkable group of young people, and they represent our hope for the future of our community and our country.”
“The thing that stands out about this competition was that each of these students did something wonderful and memorable,” Beverly said. “They showed us how their passion could change the world, and I know that these kids will positively impact the world they live in. In fact, they are already doing it!”