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Sophomore speech winning Espady speaks up about the dangers of gang violence

Sophomore speech winner Oliviah Espady speaks in front of her grade during the finals of the competition Friday, Jan. 17 in the auditorium. (Photo by Ian Dickerman)

Sophomore Olivia Espady won the eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Sophomore Speech Contest with her speech about the dangerous effects of violence on communities for young people, “Gang Violence in America,” Friday, Jan. 17, in the auditorium. 

Sophomore Samuel Braithwaite received second place for his speech about using insensitive words such as “retard”.

This year’s finalists were Espady, Braithwaite, along with sophomores Tanya-Lif Augustsdottir-Gunnarsson, Zak Glick-Macalalad, and Ethan Situ, who gave their speeches to a panel of judges including last year’s winner, junior Elizabeth Elvin, Riley House dean Michelle Stauss, English teachers Emily Lew and Kate Mannelly, METCO Engagement Specialist Elvin Cardona, and principal Henry Turner.

The English department holds the competition for sophomores yearly to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and stress the power of public speaking. A winner is chosen from each sophomore English class to move on to the semi-finals, where five judges then select five finalists to go on to the final round and speak in front of the grade.

Espady started her speech by stating there are over 300,000 active gangs in the U.S. today. She said the ignorance surrounding gangs and gang signs is damaging and stems from misinformation.

“There is a need for education on this matter,” Espady said. “I’m done waiting for people to care until it’s too late.”

She concluded by reading out names of children who died from gang violence. 

“They died too young,” she said. She added that students need to educate themselves on the subject of gang violence.

Braithwaite, discussed the importance of speaking out against those who use offensive words, discussing his experiences of having a brother with Down syndrome in his speech “Just a Word.”

Augustsdottir-Gunnarsson, in her speech “Inconsiderate Jokes,” encouraged students to stand up to those who make insulting jokes. She talked about how her sister had cancer and she heard people constantly making jokes about medical conditions. She asked the audience, “do you laugh, or do you stand up and say something?”

Glick-Macalalad discussed the lack of diversity in history curricula in his speech “The History of the U.S.” He said students should learn about different countries’ histories to relate to its people. He added, “history is being taught from an American and European perspective.”

In another speech, “This School Was Made for You and Me,” Situ addressed school shootings and how students feel unsafe at school, telling students to pressure the government by speaking up and writing about the issue.

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