On Wednesday, April 29th, College Town gathered for Speech Night–virtually. What usually occurs in the warmth of our physical program space moved to a virtual platform. Even in the strangeness of moving such a special event online, it opened the opportunity to widen the audience, engage in new ways, and connect us through the power of storytelling. With a total of 75 participants and 2 guest judges we had more attendees than ever before. Six student speakers took the spotlight on Zoom to tell their story. While simply recounting their stories will never do their speeches justice, here’s a snapshot of what they shared:
Tania C., an 11th grader, shared the power of finding self-worth outside of popularity. She recounted finding friends who cared about her for who she is at her core, and told us of how her parents reminded her that she has a superpower: to bring a smile to people’s faces and help others. She encouraged us all that we all have the same superpower within and can enact kindness and goodness in our communities at any time.
Abel E., an 11th grader, and Meliya R., a 10th grader, both spoke on the impact of COVID-19 for their lives and communities. Abel found that in the midst of cancellations, layoffs, and new requirements for school, he and his family have come together in new ways, creating stronger bonds and stepping up for one another. Meliya noted that this unprecedented time gives us the opportunity to take on new leadership roles–taking care of ourselves to be the best we can be and help our communities. She reminded us that everything we do is planting seeds for a better tomorrow and noted how she is doing her part by writing thank you notes to doctors and nurses. Both Abel and Meliya remind us that while tough times never last, tough people always do.
Eduardo R., a 9th grader, and Alyx S., an 11th grader, both touched on the impact of their families. Eduardo spoke about his Mexican heritage and the sacrifices his family made to come to a new country in search for a better life. He reminded us of the reality of those at the United States borders–those seeking a new, safer life and the difficulty of moving to a place with a new language, culture, and geography–and how their resilience encourages his own. Alyx spoke about their responsibility to become the best, most authentic version of themselves, celebrating their identity regardless of others’ opinions. Coming to terms with struggles in mental health, trauma, and complex family dynamics, Alyx has emerged with empathy and compassion overflowing. Their goal is to create a place where marginalized identities are embraced, and has moved toward this goal by creating a business. Their business, named Covenant, allows others to find alliances, build trust, and create a support system that they did not have in their family life. Both speeches reminded the audience of the beauty and difficulty of creating “home” for ourselves and others, and our collective resilience to pursue it.
Last but certainly not least, Ivan A., an 11th grader, spoke on the importance of finding people who support your goals. After finding friends in track and field that supported him in completing his classwork and setting goals for himself he found those friendships planted a seed in him to want to support others’ in achieving their goals. Having his friends motivate him to do his best reminded him that the choices one makes affect not only themselves but others around them, and encouraged the audience to surround themselves with people who help them reach their goals.
At the end of each speech, attendees flooded the chat box with encouragement, congratulations, and thanks. Each speech profoundly impacted the audience, leaving all with words of wisdom and timely reminders. In the wake of the speeches, guest judges and Reality Changers’ staff reiterated their gratitude for the speakers’ vulnerability and courage to share to the largest audience speech night has had to date.
Overall, Virtual Speech Night was a success–bringing together people from across California (and even an attendee from the East Coast!) for an incredibly special event. Thank you to all who attended, and special thanks to our 6 student speakers–you continue to inspire us to find power in embracing our stories and lead from therein.