Speaking Contest Brings Varied Topics, Life Skills

Caldwell wins third award as top eighth grader at Lake Forest Country Day School.


Michael Jordan. Procrastination. The importance of pet ownership.

 These seemingly unrelated topics do have one thing in common – they are all topics chosen by Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS) Upper School students for the Robbie Bermingham Speaking Contest. Eleven finalists presented speeches at the 46th annual contest, which took place April 25.

The speaking contest takes place during all four years of Upper School – Grade 5 through Grade 8 – allowing students many opportunities for public speaking. To prepare for the contest, every Upper School student must choose and research a topic of their own interest (with a few parameters), write and revise his or her speech, and practice the speech in front of several audiences. Depending on the grade level, the students spend anywhere from two to five weeks preparing for the contest.

In addition to learning about the process of research and finding valuable sources, the curriculum also teaches students how to use eye contact, speak with the correct cadence, accent a speech with gestures, and to balance the use of notecards with memorization

To prepare her fifth-grade students for their first speeches at LFCDS, English teacher Jessica Hill screens videos of past student speeches so her class can evaluate content, organization, and presentation. Marcia Mann, eighth-grade English teacher and co-chair of the English Department, said that her class films themselves giving their speeches with the help of their ePAL (electronic Portable Anytime Learning) computers.

“If they are able to look at themselves, it helps them recognize specific areas to improve,” she said.

After the preparation and practice, the next step is for each student to give the final version of his or her speech in front of their English teachers and peers. These trials determine the finalists that will ultimately present their speeches at the official contest.

Several LFCDS faculty and staff members assist with the contest judging as well as members of the Lake Forest community and beyond. This year’s faculty member judges included fourth-grade teacher Abby Kelchen, Lower School science teacher Elizabeth Ross, and LFCDS school librarian Marcia Banzuly; community member judges included Dan Shiau, staff director at InterVarsity, a non-profit organization that assists with leadership development for college students; John Marozsan, a 25-year veteran of the publishing industry; and Derek Bagley, 2002 LFCDS graduate and winner of the 2002 Robbie Bermingham Speaking Contest.

This year, the contest’s first-place winner was eighth-grade student Joyce Caldwell, who presented a speech entitled “Intercultural Understanding.” Caldwell holds the distinction of being the only student at LFCDS to win the first place award three out of the four years she has attended the school.

Second place was awarded to eighth-grade student Alessandro Raganelli for his “Leadership” speech, and the third-place award was a tie between eighth-grade students Lilly Reyes and Ben Dixon, who presented respective speeches on “Overcaffeination” and “The Meaning of Life.” Other finalists included fifth-grade student Zack Barker, sixth-grade student Lowell Weil, seventh-grade students Connor Pan and Tim Sperling, and eighth-grade students Julia Dixon, Sophia Platcow, and Ross Reid-Anderson.

Hill stresses the contest as a whole is meant to celebrate the work of the entire Upper School student body, not just the finalists and winners. “Skills such as speechwriting and public speaking are ones that will benefit the students over the course of their entire lives,” she said. “Each student deserves congratulations for all of their hard work.”

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