Glendale High students carried on a 105-year-old tradition on Friday when freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors competed against each other in a contest that featured elaborate tableaus where students recreated scenes with themes such as immigration, compassion and ambition.
The event began with students filing into the school’s auditorium neatly dressed in white collared shirts and black pants, careful not to utter a word, or make eye contact with nearby classmates, let alone glance at their phones.
Once seated, the students refrained from speaking to one another, knowing they would be judged on their disciplined behavior by Los Angeles police detectives wandering the aisles of the auditorium.
A student representing each class then gave a five-minute memorized speech adhering to a theme of what today’s students owe to their ancestors and to the generations who came before them as they become the masters of their own future.
Following each student’s speech, the auditorium’s curtains were opened to reveal elaborate tableaus featuring groups of students. After each tableau, students in the audience performed classic Glendale High chants and songs.
Dozens of judges made up of former Glendale High educators and students weighed in on the performances and announced the seniors as the first-place winners for each category — speech, discipline, spirit and tableaus.
Their tableau of a garden offered visuals to senior Michael Williams’ speech titled “The Roots of Gratitude” in which he told students to “continue the legacy of selflessness” initiated by prior generations, particularly immigrant ancestors who risked everything to start new lives with their families in America.
“We often dismiss our privileged lives as just another thing to be thankful for — when we acknowledge our privileges at all. In doing so, however, we neglect two of our greatest responsibilities: our obligations to our past and to our future.”
The school’s oratorical tradition began in 1909 when Glendale High was located on Harvard Street. Some say the event leaves a lasting impact, including Glendale High science teacher Shawna Metcalf, who graduated in 1996 and now advises students participating in the event.
“You remember it decades later,” she said. And as for the students who participate in oratorical each year, “they show their true potential,” she added.
Seventeen-year-old senior Mary Pailevanian competed for the first time in the competition, which is not required for students to participate. They all volunteer to take part.
“It feels like that brings us closer together,” she said of the senior class winning each category. “No matter what we’re doing at Glendale High, we just come together, we do our best at oratorical and we got a sweep. It’s a pretty good deal.”
Freshman Gor Mirzoyn said he was “kind of expecting the seniors to win,” but he was proud that his class secured second place in the speech category with speaker Meri Yedigaryan drawing upon Nelson Mandela’s sacrifices for a better future, saying it was each student’s responsibility to give back.
“We’ll do better next time,” Mirzoyn said. “But we did very well. I enjoyed it.”
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.