A passion for debate set Rhys Wynn-Williams up well for winning his first three public speaking competitions, culminating in earning the top prize at the second annual Public Speaking Contest hosted by the Rotary Club of Royal Oak Centennial earlier this month.
Comfortable speaking after four years competing in debates at the provincial and national level, the challenge for the Grade 11 Spectrum Community School student came in presenting his own material.
”The speaking style translated perfectly, but I had to be a lot more organized because you can’t rant and win,” he said. “I still use a very aggressive speaking style, but the biggest difference for me is presenting my own content.”
Given a selection of topics, he opted to talk about the way we’re going.
“I just turned that into a speech about voter apathy and the devaluation of democracy in society,” Wynn-Williams said. “It’s a topic you can easily get passionate about, easily connect to people, and moreover is still important.”
Each high school started with an in-house competition to determine winners for semi-finals held at Claremont secondary.
Spectrum principal Rob House saw early on the possibility of a Spectrum win.
“I have a huge admiration for any kid that will do this, but Rhys was the clear winner at our little local (competition). Even at the semi-finals I thought, ‘He’s got a shot at winning this,’” House said. “He was directly saying so many Canadians just squander our right that people in the world die for.”
The speeches moved some people to tears.
“I was really impressed with the value system of these young people,” said Donna Miller, with the Rotary Club of Royal Oak Centennial,. “There was so much compassion on how they spoke.”
Rotary Club of Royal Oak Centennial started the contest last year within the Victoria and Saanich school districts. This year the Sooke School District joined the mix.
Wynn-Williams won a $1,000 scholarship for his winning talk. Kaitlyn Grant-Mann of Esquimalt High spoke about what happens when you open Pandora’s Box to take second place and a $750 scholarship. Kayla Curtis, from Edward Milne Community School in Sooke placed third and won a $500 scholarship. Ryan Cahoon-Cardinal (SJ Willis), Eric Power (Reynolds secondary) and May Wang, (Claremont secondary) each earned honourable mentions and won $200 scholarships.
“The value of it, a lot of adults in our society would be well served to emulate,” Miller said. “I came away not worried at all about what’s going to happen with the world if those kids are going to be some leaders.”