Career & Education

16-year-old J'can wins Optimist International Caribbean speech competition

Sunday, May 05, 2019

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Sixteen-year-old Alexandra Vaz displayed her talents as a skilled orator when she won the Optimist International Oratorical Competition Caribbean District finals in April, finishing ahead of 11 other participants from Jamaica, The Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados.

She will now move on to the World Championships in the US in June. The prize packgae at that level includes a college scholarship.

“I am very excited about winning and taking on the journey to the international competition. I am proud to be representing Jamaica and the Caribbean and will do my best. My hope is to let the Jamaican flag fly high, as I aspire to win,” Vaz told the Jamaica Observer.

Vaz presented on the topic: 'Is There a Fine Line Between Optimism and Reality?'

The win was not a first for Vaz, who has bagged other speech competitions — including those put on by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) — and received several medals representing Davis Primary School from Old Harbour, St Catherine, and Ardenne High School in St Andrew where she is currently a student.

When a family friend suggested that she enter the Optimist International Oratorical Competition she took on the challenge.

“After several years of entering the JCDC competition, a family friend said there was a competition which he believed would fit my abilities,” she explained. “He let me enter at the club level and I moved up from there.”

She described the competition as a learning experience.

“The competition boosted my confidence, in terms of believing in myself, because the judges always told us that if you believe in what you are saying, it makes everyone else believe you. But it was nerve-racking, because I had to believe I could deliver it well, hence the pressure. I wasn't nervous about standing before an audience. I was more worried about how I would deliver after all the research and preparation,” she shared.

Vaz dreams of becoming an entrepreneur upon completing her studies. The fifth form student wants to be a caterer and wishes to open a theatre house.

She believes being articulate and confident are skills which will be beneficial to both ventures, and continues to hone skills as a public speaker.

“To be an entrepreneur you need to be able to speak with your clients, build your network for investment, and persuade persons to come on board with you,” she said. “You must be convincing and persuasive, and a good speaker can do that.”

Sanya Wallace, senior manager, strategic planning, reporting and marketing at JN Money Services, one of the main sponsors of the competition, said: “The levels of preparation and articulation from the contestants are commendable.”

“We have been sponsors of the competition in the Cayman Islands for a number of years and we have always been impressed with the level of preparation and articulation there. This year, we decided to extend our sponsorship to Jamaica because it is another way in which we continue to support education and youth development.

“I am proud of Alexandra and the other contestants. Many persons, regardless of age, fear public speaking. The fact that they were able to stand before an audience and present on a topic indicates their confidence and preparation,” Wallace stated.

“At JNMS, we believe in the education and development of young people; and we commend their participation in this competition,” she said. “This is an excellent way to assist young people, to develop confidence and refine their research methods, as well as their presentation skills. They're all winners and we wish them well.”

Vaz' mother, Charmaine Samuels-Cole couldn't be prouder of her daughter.

“I am elated!” she said. “I cried tears of joy and could hardly speak for a moment. When I heard that the winner was 'Speaker D', I tried to remember which letter Alexandra had been assigned. I am grateful to God.”

“When she told me that she wanted to enter, I encouraged her because she has always entered JCDC competitions and performed well. Therefore, any competition she wants to enter I always give her my full support,” Samuels-Cole said.

First held in 1928, the oratorical contest is the longest-running programme sponsored by Optimist International. It is designed for young people to gain experience in public speaking and provide them with the opportunity to compete for a college scholarship.

Interested youngsters are required to prepare a four-to-five minutes speech on the assigned topic presented in their local Optimist Club's contest. The speeches are judged at the club, zone, district regional (if needed), and district levels. Clubsand districts may choose to allow contestants to compete via online streaming. It is open to youngsters under the age of 18 as of October 1 in the current Optimist International Contest year.

At the district level, scholarships in the sum of US$2,500, US$1,500 and US$1,000 are awarded to the first, second and third place finishers in the finals. The winner of the district contest has the opportunity to enter the World Championships, which is hosted in St Louis, Missouri, in the USA.


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