The Harvey Middle School and Upper School finalists in the school wide annual Wells Speech Contest spoke with passion and conviction before an audience of their peers, families, faculty, and staff on Thursday, December 14 in the Lasdon Theater of The Walker Center for the Arts. The 15 finalists each delivered a powerful speech on a topic for which they felt “passionate,” and the emerging winners themes were filled with personal stories and a tremendous amount of heart.
Middle School winner Wendy Lichtenberg, an eighth-grader at Harvey, addressed the hot topic of “Net Neutrality” in her speech entitled “Preserving The Internet.” She told the audience “The arguments for net neutrality are parallel to the arguments for free speech, our praised first amendment. We can imagine the Internet monopolies crushing our right to free speech in many ways.” She continued by adding, “It does not take long to see how [an internet provider] controls information flow throughout the country and undermines our 240-year old democracy.” After she received her award, Wendy beamed “I’m pretty excited,” but then she quickly turned more serious, noting, “well, except for the thing I’m arguing about is going to get demolished in about 30 minutes.” She had indeed delivered her speech on the very day that the FCC voted to eliminate the 2015 Open Internet Order and net neutrality protections - the topic of her winning speech.
Middle School Speech Contest winner, Wendy Lichtenberg
Senior Jared Peraglia took home the Upper School trophy for his speech, “Be Interested.” While searching for a topic, Jared recalled a moment when he showed interest in the passion of two classmates, animation, and asked for them to share their work with him. Amazed by the artwork he received, and astounded that he had not previously known about his friends’ abilities, he was struck by the last sentence in their email which read “Thank you for being interested.” Jared shared in his speech, “The very thing we are on this planet to do, sharing, is restricted by our lack of interest in each other and in each others passions.” He encouraged the audience to ponder how much they really know about each other, and ask the people around them who they are, closing with “People don’t become interesting, if no one is ever interested.” When asked how he felt about winning, Jared said, “This is awesome, to be surrounded by such great people giving amazing speeches, with so much to say.” As a senior, he concluded that he came upon his speech idea by asking himself “what do I wish a senior had told me when I was a young sixth-grader.”
Upper School Speech Contest winner, Jared Peraglia
The three judges for the contest were as diversified as the speeches given. Tahra Millan is the VP/Chief Marketing Officer at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, as well as an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. Joe Garrity, currently an independent consultant, was the former Chair of the Board for Saint Michael’s College and CFO of 4 Kids Entertainment. The third judge, Noelle Maoriello, is a Social Studies teacher at neighboring John Jay High School.
The judges awarded Honorable Mention to ninth-grader Isabelle Abramson for her personal and poignant speech entitled “Organ Donation.” Isabelle was courageous to share her story as an organ donation recipient. “In my case, someone--who didn’t know me, and who I will never be able to thank--had signed a piece of paper, making them an organ donor. That person gave me the gift of life. I am here today, to encourage all of you to give the gift of life, and consider becoming an organ donor.” Isabelle was happy with her performance, saying “Being able to be in the finals, receiving honorable mention, is just huge.”
Honorable Mention went to US student, Isabelle Abramson
Initiated at Harvey in 1958, the speech contest has evolved into a writing project involving every Harvey student. The English teachers narrow the field to 15 finalists who then present their speeches before the judges at the school wide assembly.
This year’s other finalists were sixth-graders Taylor Bassi and Zachary Weisblatt, seventh-graders Emma Galgano and Marley Shyer, eighth-grader Jacob Hellinger, ninth-grader Joseph DiGrandi, tenth-graders BB Jaffee and Amanda Ward, eleventh-graders Parker Berke, Brooke Dodderidge, and Elizabeth Mahony, and twelfth-grader Nikkita Johnson. The contest was hosted by English teacher Cris Alexander.
These 15 Harvey students presented a wide range of ideas and issues that they are facing in today’s world, and they are facing these challenges head on. Jared summed it up best within his speech. “I see diversity. I see the future. I see possibility. I see strengths. And I see weaknesses. The truth is...we are stronger together.”
MS finalists, seated from left: Marley Shyer, Emma Galgano, Zachary Weisblatt and Taylor Bassi
Standing: Wendy Lichtenberg and Jacob Hellinger
US finalists, seated from left: Isabelle Abramson, Joseph DiGrandi, BB Jaffee, and Amanda Ward
Standing, from left: Parker Berke, Brooke Dodderidge, Elizabeth Mahony, Jared Peraglia and Nikkita Johnson
This year's contest judges from left: Joe Garrity, Tahra Millan, and Noelle Maoriello
To watch all the speeches, go to Harvey Live Speech Contest