WILKES-BARRE – The 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Open Speech & Debate Tournament held Saturday at Meyers High School was a celebration of both the art of public speaking and the life of King himself.
In King's famous I Have a Dream speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, he looked forward to both diversity and excellence in the lives of young people. King used words to effectuate change, said Sarah Borland, honorary director of the event. We believe that the tournament reflects that ability to effectuate change.
Approximately 332 students from 26 high schools participated.
The event consisted of 15 speech and debate categories, five of which directly reflected the life and legacy of Dr. King. Participants were encouraged to compete in these special categories, which included presentation of one of Dr. King's speeches or sermons, oratory on a topic related to King's legacy or causes, and poetry inspired by the spirit of Dr. King.
It another category called Crisis Management, students were presented with a crisis scenario and expected to craft a presentation to the news media. This public speaking scenario was developed to prepare students for careers in the field of law or public relations.
Borland also emphasized that the event encompassed the presentation of a variety of views. Civil rights isn't about a specific demographic; it's about the freedom for everyone to express their beliefs, said Borland, who reflected on the value of her own participation in Speech and Debate while she was a student at Meyers.
It also reflected a spirit of community and support, as numerous alumni and parents volunteer to act as event judges.
Many alumni have returned year after year, to provide food, serve as judges and encourage students, said Mary Beth Romero, whose daughter Elsa, a seventh-grader, participated in the Interpretation of Literature and Crisis Management categories.
Attendees said in addition to looking good on a résumé, participation in Speech and Debate events has increased their self-confidence, provided an opportunity to network with students from other schools and improved their ability to speak in front of a group.
Elise Wetzel, of Gettysburg Area High School, said she loved meeting other people participating and being part of a close-knit group.
Looking out over students preparing to present, interacting with students from other schools and gathering new information, Borland said, I believe that this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in a way that emphasizes hard work, diversity and purpose.