“In all the devastation, you can still be [optimistic],” eighth-grader Skylar Smith said as she discussed optimism in light of events such as last year’s deadly Paradise fire and Houston flooding.
“You may not always be able to change and choose our reality, but our responses to reality are entirely ours.”
Skylar, from Marine View Middle School, won first place Monday night in the fifth annual Surf City Optimist-Ocean View School District Oratorical Contest, in which 10 students from four middle schools in the Huntington Beach-based district were challenged to deliver two- to three-minute speeches focusing on this year’s theme, “Is there a fine line between optimism and reality?”
Lyndsay Harris, a seventh-grader from Spring View Middle School, placed second and Gil Lichtmaher, a sixth-grader from Mesa View Middle School, finished third.
“I am so happy. It was very hard to get here,” Skylar said. “Took a lot of practicing, but it was a very fun and educational experience that helped me overcome a lot of [public] speaking things, and I think a lot of the opportunities I got from this will help me in life.”
Lyndsay said she was surprised she got second place, given that she felt Gil and speakers from Vista View Middle School did very well.
But she was excited to tell her friends that she accomplished something outside of school.
Skylar said she’s excited to qualify for the next round of competition, along with Lyndsay, to take on students from other parts of Orange County.
Monday’s contest was presented by the district with help from the Surf City Optimist Club, a Huntington Beach chapter of the volunteer organization Optimist International.
Themes each year are provided in October and typically reflect Optimist International’s key beliefs, namely fostering optimistic thought.
Students write and refine their speeches, with each school hosting preliminary competitions to narrow the list of participants for the district contest.
Former Mesa View eighth-graders Brooke Foreman and Matthew Quach won first place in the girls’ and boys’ categories during last year’s competition, in which the theme was “Where are the roots of my optimism?”
This year’s contest did not include gender categories.
The competition was first held after the Surf City Optimist Club approached the district in 2014.
“We believe strongly in public speaking and the power of oral communication for students to be able to express themselves, especially to provide a constructive argument around a topic,” said Ocean View Supt. Carol Hansen. “It’s a lifelong skill, so we’re thrilled to promote this kind of activity.”
The contest is considered one of the Optimist Club’s main events.
“We’re a club that deals strictly with young people,” said Bill Belknap, chairman of the oratorical competition. “We tell [schools] about all the programs, but it’s all for the kids — to make them grow, to think and understand and, hopefully, turn out to be good citizens.”
Other club events include a basketball skills competition and a pinewood derby in which students can build and race small toy cars.
“We are so fortunate to have the Optimists here in the Ocean View School District,” Hansen said. “And we are so happy they have chosen Ocean View to be their district that they want to participate in and bring their projects to.”
Though a few other qualifying competitions follow the next level, students have the potential to attend the national championships at the Optimist International headquarters in St. Louis.
The next round will be held April 1 in the Ocean View School District boardroom in Huntington Beach.