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Speech Team: You ARE Special
March 13, 2013 - Phyllis Sigal
I think if David McCullough Jr. met members of the Wheeling Park High School award-winning speech team, he might reconsider his "none of you is special" commencement address.
McCullough, the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, gave quite the controversial speech to 2012 graduates of Wellesley (Mass.) High School, where he is an English teacher.
The thing went viral as he told the graduating seniors that they were all just one of the pack.
"You’re not special. You are not exceptional.
"Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing 7th grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you, you're nothing special. ...
"The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. ... Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That's 37,000 valedictorians; that’s 37,000 class presidents; 92,000 harmonizing altos; 340,000 swaggering jocks; 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs."
Pretty harsh. (But I do love the Uggs line.)
And I beg to differ with Mr. McCullough.
The Wheeling Park High School speech team and its members are special.
I had the chance to see four members offer a preview of this weekend's 34th try for the W.Va. State Speech and Debate championship.
The kids were guests of honor/entertainment at a Wheeling Symphony Society auction prize: a luncheon donated by Ben and Lynne Exley. Mary Beth Hughes successfully bid on the item last spring and invited several friends to hear the speech team members. Lynne thought I might enjoy it, and I brought along my son Leland, who happened to be in town for a brief visit. Leland was a member of the team for his three years at Park and state champ for prose interpretation his sophomore year. Daughter Amanda and her husband, Chris Seidler, were both members of the team their senior year; she won third place in sales, and he (along with Nathan Strasser) won second place in dramatic duo.
On Tuesday at the Exley's, sophomore Colleen Dorsey presented McCullough's speech in the category of declamation. In that category, the student recites a piece previously given publicly by another speaker.
It was a compelling speech, about success being sweeter when you have to work for it, Dorsey explained.
McCullough suggests that "if everyone is special, then no one is special. If everyone gets a trophy then trophies become meaningless."
I get what he's trying to say, basically. And while I don't agree with all of his points, he did have some bits of good advice for the kids:
"Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you."
"Dream big and work hard," he says.
Well, the WPHS speech team has been working very hard and is dreaming of No. 34 when the students head for Morgantown this weekend — already in the lead. The debate kids, in the first leg of the tournament last weekend, took four of the top six places, according to Josh Fromhart, debate coach.
And after seeing Colleen and teammates present their pieces, I'm looking for good news this weekend.
Senior Danielle Walter presented a dramatic prose piece, "The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness," by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett about a young schizophrenic. We all gave our rapt attention.
Junior Lizzie Kaniecki certainly convinced me with her sales pitch to purchase Quaker Oats to eat, bathe in and give myself a facial. She was hilarious!
In the poetry category, senior Hannah Hlad presented spirited interpretations of two poems, "Shine," by Andrea Gibson and "Not Just Another Math Problem," by Phil Kay and Sarah Kay.
All four girls were delightful, personable, poised and confident — attributes that no doubt have been enhanced by their time on the speech team. Hannah mentioned that had she not done speech, she never would've realized her career path. She's planning to study communications and journalism.
About 20 or so members of the team will participate in 11 speech events and three debate events on Friday and Saturday.
I will be waiting with bated breath for the results! Break a leg to head coach Bill Cornforth and to Fromhart and the team.
"If everyone gets a trophy then trophies become meaningless," says McCollough.
I'm hoping that everyone on this speech team will be bringing home a trophy. And that's pretty darn special.
Lizzie, Danielle, Colleen and Hannah