Speech topics offer expanded experiences for State contenders

Two Perham High School Speech students who earned trips to State competition during Section competition, also enjoyed an expanded experience as a result of their speech topics.


Two Perham High School Speech students who earned trips to State competition during Section competition, also enjoyed an expanded experience as a result of their speech topics.

Annika Werner, a junior, presented her original oratory speech on the lack of a mental health curriculum in schools to the Perham-Dent School Board on April 13. Her speech spoke to the need for mental health topics and suggested that it might be a good fit in the state-required health class, or in general psychology classes offered at the high school. After her presentation to the school board, Health teacher Mike Peterson said a mental health segment had been added to the curriculum after he learned about the topic earlier in the year.

Zepherian Richardson, a junior, used a previous speech written and presented by the late Julian Bond, titled "The Broken Promises of Brown," delivered May 15, 2004, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education regarding de-segregation, which resulted in meeting the lead attorney.

A lawsuit was brought in Hennepin Court against the Minneapolis and St. Paul School districts because they did not de-segregate by lead attorney Dan Schulman. As Zepherian became more passionate about the speech given by Bond, he did more research to develop the speech, which included interviewing Schulman. Schulman in turn, invited Zepherian to the preliminary hearing last Thursday, as Zepherian was preparing for the state speech meet on Friday.

Zepherian took sixth in the category of Great Speeches at State last week, while Annika placed 23rd in Original Oratory.


Upon deciding to participate in Speech this year, Annika, a junior at PHS, and her coaches eventually decided that Original Oratory would be the best category for her original composition, written about the lack of mental health information in her school. With her father in the mental health field and having personal experience with mental health illness, the topic was a natural fit, she said.

"I knew what I wanted the topic to be," Annika said. "In Speech, we set goals. I wanted to get the message out. I didn't honestly think I'd get to state. It wasn't about winning."

Annika continued to develop her topic over the course of the Speech season, though the initial content took only a week to write. She outlined the points she wanted to address, which were the problem, the cause, the solution and the benefits of mental health curriculum in school.

She spent time going over very point she wanted to make and that each point came across as she intended them to come across.

Then came fine-tuning her presentation, the part where she is in front of an audience critiquing her content and delivery.

"I didn't feel prepared because I didn't have my speech memorized," Annika said of that first tournament. She knew that judges are necessarily judging on whether the speech is memorized, but Annika knew she could perform better if the speech was memorized.

But Coach Sandra Wieser-Matthews reminded her it was about getting the message out.

"She told me 'just do it,'" Annika said, encouraging her to continue.


As the season continued, Annika became more familiar with her speech and eventually memorized it. At the Section meet, though, she went "off script," she said, momentarily pausing to get herself back on track. She was sure that hurt her chances to make State.

However, as she and her cousin waited for the results to be posted, holding hands, the answer came loud and clear: "You're on there!"

At first Annika was surprised. But she quickly accepted her placement and began preparing for the State tournament.

The week of the tournament, Annika presented her topic at the Perham-Dent School Board meeting. In her introduction of Annika, Coach Wieser-Matthews said the speech wasn't intended to be an indictment against the school.

Following Annika's presentation, the school board learned that a curriculum had been written for the health class covering mental health topics. Mike Peterson, upon learning of the health omission, put together a session on the topic and an eight-day course had just been completed by students in health class. He plans to add an additional couple of days of lessons for future classes, he told the board.

Zepherian has been a participant in speech since seventh grade, he said, taking only one year off when he was a sophomore.

He started out in the Creative Expression category, but felt it wasn't his thing, so the next year, he went into Duo. But Coach Wieser-Matthews suggested he enter in two categories, the other being Great Speeches. With Duo not going so well, he ended up focusing on Great Speeches, which he seemed to have a knack for, he said, advancing to Section competition. In ninth grade, he continued in Great Speeches and earned 12th place at State, with a Mandela speech.

This year, he started the season thinking he would do something on gay rights. With the bill that passed last year allowing marriage to same-sex couples, it is a hot topic, he said, though he still isn't sure whose speech on the topic he would have used.


But he ended up with 1960s Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond. He didn't really dive too much into Bond's life until he had delivered the speech a few times.

"I started feeling it the more I presented it," Zepherian said. "After I decided to use his speech, I did more research to see if I liked him."

In the category of Great Speeches, participants will use excepts of speeches, written and presented in public forums, and provide analysis of what was said, explaining relevance today of words spoken long ago.

In addition to participating himself, Zepherian also tried to mentor and encourage younger students, or those who were just beginning their experience, he said.

He had a couple of older mentors during his seventh-grade year in Speech, who became good friends, both during the season and outside of Speech, he said.

"They pushed me to do better," he said. "I wanted to be good at Speech. My goal was to go to State with them; and I did, so that was pretty cool."

Zepherian wanted to encourage that family feeling with younger students like his friends had done for him, a sort of paying it forward.

"I really want younger kids to do well and to build a really good team," he said. "It was the greatest experience of my life (working with those older kids)," he said.

Zepherian is undecided about participating in Speech next year because he may do post-secondary and would be stretched too thin if he also did Speech, but he is keeping the door open, he said.

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