SHS Oratorical winner finds humor in life

SHS Oratorical winner finds humor in life

Eleven students participated in the 31st annual Benoit-Salisbury Oratorical Contest held last Friday, April 5. Back row from left: First place winner Jonah Major, third-place winner Max Votolato, Jonathan Spaulding, Bryce Moroni and Joshua Young. Front row from left: runner-up Simon Reese, Bella Breder, Kelsie Crough, Meghan Kiernan, Leah Currie and Sebastian DeJesus. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – Smithfield High School senior Jonah Major stood in front of the entire student body and reminded them that when it comes to high school, “this is all a bizarre farce.”

Using quirky wit and a slightly cracking voice, Major had the whole auditorium erupting with laughter listening to his winning speech in the 31st annual Benoit-Salisbury Oratorical Contest held last Friday, April 5, at the Smithfield High School.

The annual contest invites seniors to the stage to give a speech imparting advice learned through the years at the high school to underclassmen.

Major’s advice for SHS students is to “look for the jokes,” because no matter how boring something is, “they’re there.”

“High school is a lot of stress, a lot of awkward and a lot of boring in between,” Major said.

“Figure out how to make the mundane funny,” he said.

Major said he learned his sense of humor by making political jokes and watching debates online with his dad, Jeff. His mother, Elyse, said he always enjoyed watching old Saturday Night Live sketches, and always had a comic’s timing.

He told classmates how nerve-wracking speaking in front of hundreds of students can be while also wearing a tie that is trying to choke him.

With participants waiting in the music room next door to the SHS auditorium, French teacher Margarita Dempsey opened the Oratorical with a reminder:

“America’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death,” Dempsey said.

This year, 11 students were brave enough to take the stage and try their hand at public speaking.

Runner-up Simon Rees won the room over with his opening line, “boys are stupid.” He continued to tell his story of breaking both wrists before he started middle school, and the funk he felt during and after his recovery. Rees said he realizes that while he may no longer be the athletic kid, he is the smart kid.

“Everyone has a starting place,” he said. “Who you are now is not who you will be in the future.”

Similarly, third-place winner Max Votolato said he used to feel paralyzed from the desire to achieve perfection, and couldn’t find his starting point. Votolato said he made small, attainable goals, and he was able to accomplish seemingly unachievable goals.

“Any aspiration you can achieve through hard work is something you should be proud of,” Votolato said.

Following Votolato was Kelsey Crough, a previously shy student who decided to take a risk and step out of her comfort zone of watching and listening. Outside of her comfort zone, she achieved success in sports and friendships.

“Fear should not rule you,” Crough said.

Sharing a story that she was at one time too fearful to share with classmates, Meghan Kiernan said discovering that a golf ball-sized lump was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, all at 15 years old, turned her world around.

She said she continued to go to school until her hair fell out three weeks before the end of freshman year. Friends told her she was lucky to miss final exams because they didn’t know what she was going through.

“Since October 2016, I’m cancer-free,” Kiernan said. “You should never take anything for granted. Appreciate everything you have.”

Jonathan Spaulding’s advice for underclassmen was that success only comes after taking risks. He reminded students that life is just beginning for them, and to get rid of a defeatist mindset at a young age.

Listing off advice for underclassmen, Joshua Young’s speech was a seeming manifesto of how to live through high school and beyond. He said to stay ahead of the times, be involved with hours of discourse, and always continue to the next hurdle.

“The world needs your participation,” he said.

In a speech about fulfilling dreams, Sebastian DeJesus said that giving up is only cheating yourself.

“YOLO, you only live once. Make sure once is enough,” he said.

Bryce Moroni gave his speech about “authenticity” in rhymed verse. He said students should not seek “validation through occupation,” telling them to instead be their authentic selves.

Bella Breder and Leah Currie spoke about overcoming mental illness to come out strong.

Breder, who has dealt with depression and anxiety, found relief in friendships.

Currie said seeking perfection turned into an eating disorder and made her became her own worst enemy.

“I am a work in progress, but that’s OK,” Currie said.

Founder Bob Salisbury, former principal at SHS, said this year’s contestants have a lot of talent and he enjoyed listening to their speeches.
SHS Principal Dan Kelley said he was proud to be able to continue the tradition. Winners will recieve awards during Honors Night.