Senior Speech Finals at Norfolk Academy are always a thrill: The three seniors with the highest grades on their speeches return to the Johnson Theater stage for encore performances in front of the entire Upper School and a panel of guest judges.
This year, the three finalists are Sean Miller, Michael Hostutler, and Juliet Lancey. The trio will take on the challenge of a repeat performance with an added wrinkle--they will stand and deliver on Friday, May 15 from a “stage" in their homes, and the audience will join them via Zoom.
The speakers, all of whom have been participating in Upper School courses via Zoom videoconferencing through NA's distance learning program, did a pre-Speech Finals group interview to discuss their upcoming experience. All three emphatically agreed on one point: Doing the speech via Zoom is going to be harder.
However, each one had a different perspective on “why" it would be so. Miller is perhaps more comfortable under the lights of the Johnson Theater stage than anyone in the school, as he has appeared in a steady stream of plays and Winter Musicals since Lower School, most recently dazzling audiences as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family.
Zoom, however, is something different. “I am a little nervous," he said. “It's hard to be loud and expressive on Zoom." A veteran of many rehearsals, he noted that he intends to practice a good bit before Friday.
Hostutler recalled how much he appreciated seeing people's reactions from the podium, when he gave his speech earlier in the year. As part of Zoom etiquette, audience members mute their audio and turn off their videos to avoid creating a distraction. “I distinctly remember being able to pause after an important sentence," he said. “Seeing people's attention was great for me."
Lancey said she has given many speeches as Chair of the Honor Council, so she often finds herself noticing specific audience members; during her speech at Convocation in the fall, she was amused by a lively first grader in the front row, who was fidgeting and clearly in his own world.
“The biggest part of doing it on Zoom is going to be the atmosphere, being in my own home...staring at an image of yourself," she said. “To give this speech while staring in a mirror the whole time--I think I am going to have to cover up my image!"
All three were surprisingly eager to embrace one aspect of the Finals that is normally not incredibly appealing. “I'm excited to get dressed up!" Lancey said. “It's been awhile wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts."
Hostutler noted that the unusual circumstances might call for a change in the sartorial code. “I'm thinking about a bolo tie," he said.
The award for the top speaker is given at Graduation, which makes the suspenseful waiting a bit longer this year; the event is tentatively scheduled for July 26 with a back-up date in December.
No matter the challenges, the continuity of the tradition feels meaningful. “I am so excited that we are keeping it going," Lancey said.
The titles of the three speeches are as follows:
Sean Miller: “Comprehensive Sexual Education: An Ethical and Public Health Necessity." Miller said he found his topic after realizing that the U.S. had the highest rate of teenagers giving birth of any developed nation. Miller is attending University of Virginia as a Jefferson Scholar.
Michael Hostutler: “Broken Promises: Reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program." Hostutler first heard about the issue from a special report on NPR, and he subsequently talked to History Teacher Dr. Naujoks about the issue, which inspired him to pursue it. Hostutler is attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar.
Juliet Lancey: “B Corp Certification: Bettering the World through Business." She discovered her topic during a summer internship in Rhode Island, when she was asked to do research, and she felt that it was something that high school students could impact through their behavior as consumers. Lancey is attending George Washington University.
To learn more about our Speech Program, please visit our website.