Eight young contestants delivered inspirational, optimistic messages on March 31 in the Palisades Lutheran Church Sanctuary, with about 100 people in the audience. The annual Optimist Oratorical Contest featured the theme “Staying Optimistic in Challenging Times.”
The emcee this year was last year’s winner, Julia Abbot, who is now a Palisades High senior. She placed second in the 2021 Optimist International Oratorical World Championships last July, earning $10,000 in scholarship money. She urged students to keep trying, even if they didn’t place, and told them she had participated in the contest five times, before advancing to the International contest last year.
A common theme with students was the time they had to endure during the Covid shutdowns; the opportunities lost; and how they remained positive in the face of constant negativity in the world around them.
Palisades High sophomore Kyra Morris said, “Scientists have determined that when we are in a negative state of mind, such as fear, anger or in panic, our brains shut down. UC Berkeley’s ‘The Science of Happiness’ course teaches, ‘Research has shown that kids do better on a math test or a learning context if they’re just asked to sit and think of a positive memory before they take the test.’” She placed third and won $100.
Paul Revere eighth grader Maisie Drake said, “What’s the point in hoping? It’s been a year or so and I’m still learning from my bedroom. . . .I cried. A lot. But with those tears, the shroud over my eyes was lifted and I could see this situation was no one’s fault. I could see that I would with time, clear this hurdle, and most importantly, I could see that this situation was out of my hands. I could change nothing except for myself. My thoughts changed, too. I stopped pitying myself and believed that there was hope.” Drake placed second and won a $150 scholarship.
Revere eighth grader Misha Keyvanfar told the audience that Vickor Frankl, a psychologist, was sent to a concentration camp in World War II. “In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ he said that ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing that lasts is the human freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances to choose one’s own way.’”
Keyvanfar placed first and received $250. She and Drake will now advance to the District contest.
In addition to the scholarship winners, other contestants, all Paul Revere eighth graders, were Sydney Litt, Lana Shargani, Louisa Mammen, Noah Houriani and Zach Cohen.
The contest, which started in 1928, is designed for youth to gain experience in public speaking. The annual local contest is open to any contestant under the age of 18 who attends public and private school or is home-schooled.
Contestants are scored on poise, content of speech, overall effectiveness, delivery and presentation. Penalties are incurred if a contestant fails to announce the official topic, fails to identify non-original material, uses props and goes over or under the time limit of between four and five minutes.
Once again Susie DeWeese, whose husband Rick is a long-time Optimist Club member, organized the contest, worked with contestants and located judges.
The three-person panel included the recently retired Diane Trotta Hansen, who owned a Marketing Research Company, Trotta Associates; Marc Sallus, an attorney who handles estates, trusts and conservatorships, is a litigator and past president of the Beverly Hills Bar and an Optimist member; and long-time Saint John’s Hospital volunteer Pam Kogan, who worked in labor relations and employee relations including union contract negotiations for various companies before retiring to raise three children.