Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 16, 2013
Union 93 speech contest winner finds subject close to home
Allen Cole, principal of Penobscot school, awards Jackson Billings, an eighth-grader from Blue Hill Consolidated School, the first place trophy for his speech on his aunt, Sarah Billings Leighton. The Union 93 speech contest, sponsored by the Modern Woodmen of America, was held on May 9 in Penobscot.
Given the theme of “A person who has overcome,” Blue Hill Consolidated School’s Jackson Billings took home top honors in the Union 93 speech contest held at Penobscot Community School on May 9.
This qualified Billings for the regional competition held at All Saints Catholic School in Bangor on May 13, where he presented his speech alongside nine other district-level winners. Jessica Walker, of Orono Middle School, won that competition.
Billings, an eighth-grader, looked within his family to find his subject, drawing a picture of his aunt, Sara Billings Leighton, who as a young girl suffered third degree burns over 80 percent of her body. Overcoming this accident to lead “a normal life while facing more pain and suffering than anyone should have to go through” makes Leighton “a true warrior in my eyes,” Billings said in his winning speech.
Twelve students from Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot and Surry elementary schools and All Saints Catholic School in Bangor presented speeches at the annual event, which is sponsored by the Modern Woodmen of America. They qualified by being one of two top winners at their school-level contest.
Anna Zmistowski, of Bangor’s All Saints Catholic School, won second place with a speech on Hope Solo, “an inspiration for those who must overcome circumstances not of their own making.” Solo is an Olympic gold medal-winner who rose to the top of women’s soccer despite growing up in an abusive family.
Yvonne Rogers, of Adams School in Castine, took third place. She spoke of Uganda’s top woman chess player, Phiona Mutesi, who could not afford to go to school and lived in extreme poverty with no running water. “The important victory is what she overcame to get there,” Rogers said of Mutesi’s qualifying for the Chess Olympiad in Russia.
Contestants in the Modern Woodmen speech competition are judged on the material and organization of their speech (40 points), their delivery and presentation (40 points) and overall effectiveness (20 points).
The three judges had a hard time coming up with the top three winners, they said.
“Wow,” said judge Linda Freimuth, a retired middle school teacher, of the quality of speeches. “This was extremely difficult. And judges don’t have to say that.”
“Each of you showed a great deal of courage,” said judge Bery Kornriech, a retired professor and former executive director of Downeast Health Services.
While Billings and Zmistowski qualified for the regional competition, judge Rachel Kohrman Ramos, curriculum coordinator for Union 93, had some advice for all the contestants.
“Keep doing this,” she said.
The School Speech Contest, open to fifth- through eighth-graders, first started in 1948. The Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal benefit society, states the contest’s purpose is to “provide students the opportunity to research topics and help them develop skills in organizing material, clear thinking and public speaking,” according to the society. This is the third year that Union 93 schools have participated.