In a preliminary impromptu speaking round of the World Individual Debating & Public Speaking Championship in Fox Chapel Thursday, seven students from around the world were given just two minutes to prepare a short speech on a random topic – anything from the word “needles” to the phrase “evil is whatever distracts the mind.”
"We should all take risks and not hold ourselves back, even if it's to do with needles," said Micaella Rogers of South Africa, pacing and gesturing with her hands often as she spoke in front of a classroom full of judges and competitors.
Thomas Graham, of Australia, spoke on the idea of, "Ignorance doesn't kill you, but it does make you sweat."
"It will make us sweat when we start asking ourselves, 'How are we allowing ourselves to let this happen to the environment?'" said Graham.
"These distractions, my ladies and gentlemen, sound very innocent," said Aiste Bakutyte of Lithuania, "but they're not. They're evil."
If they want to make it to Monday’s final round, the teenagers will have to navigate through three more categories, including Parliamentary Debate and Interpretive Reading.
About 100 high school students from 11 countries are gathered at the Shady Side Academy senior high campus in Fox Chapel this week for the individual debating tournament.
Shady Side Academy senior Abbie Minard said the reading round is her strong suit.
“I’m primarily an actor, so the reading and getting into the characters and trying out voices and building to the climax is a lot of fun for me," Minard said. "I’m also a writer, so I feel much better with prepared pieces rather than just speaking off the top of my head.”
Shady Side Academy sophomore Antoni Yotov said the exposure to foreign students has been rewarding.
“Just last evening, we went out to dinner with all these different competitors, and we were able to sit at a table with two Lithuanians and a person from South Korea," Yotov said Thursday. "We had an amazing conversation, learning about different things. We talked about stereotypes of our given countries. Being able to meet different people from different countries – that’s really a unique, very fun experience.”
Shady Side Academy Head of Senior School Kate Vavpetic said the teenage competitors are learning to think critically and express themselves eloquently.
“They’re also, in the public speaking events, learning how to modulate their voices, use articulation, use facial gestures to convey meaning of whatever they’re reading" Vavpetic said. "They’re also learning diplomacy skills – how to get along with people from different countries, how to handle different expectations, cultural differences, et cetera.”
The teens, hailing from 11 countries on five continents, will sight-see regional landmarks when they’re not debating.
The grand champion will be announced Monday night following the final competition – “After-Dinner Speaking” at the Heinz History Center.