Every Thursday is an important day for at least three juniors at Columbus Academy. Sophomores realize that it will soon be their turn to speak in front of 400 people, and freshmen push the thought aside, as they have two years until their speech dates. What we now call the “Junior Speech” officially began in the 1950s, but similar presentations have been around since the 1920s. Ask around and you’ll find that many current faculty at Academy have given Junior Speeches of their own.
When Mr. Exline attended Academy, the speech was more of a research paper than a reflection or story. His speech was a humorous look at the history of railroading in Ohio. Students took a public speaking course that met three days a week for the first semester, and after completing the class, each junior would give his speech. Exline’s most memorable moment of this tradition was when one student who was so nervous that when he stretched out his arms, he ended up pushing the podium off of the edge of the stage.
Exline’s advice for the upcoming juniors is to “Be certain you’re prepared and confident. Be brief, be witty, and be seated.” He says that the key to mastering anything is preparation.
Dr. Morris, who only had a 3×5 notecard when giving his speech, says that having the safety net of the paper on the podium changed the student’s relationship with the speech. The notecard ensured that there was no time for last minute changes — students needed to know their topics inside-out. Morris says, “I spoke about Bob Marley, and it was not very interesting. I remember my friend (Ben Green) after me had written about the iPod and the ramifications it would have on society. Far more interesting.”
His advice: “Juniors, you need to have an awareness of the moment you have. You have an audience of your peers for 8 minutes. Think about what it is that you’re sharing.”
Mr. Rahe says that when he was a student “[t]here was no cherishing the moment on stage. The importance of the speech was getting through it.” His speech was about his father’s heart attack and recovery which happened during Rahe’s freshman year. He was so nervous that all he remembers is the intro and saying thank you at the end.
Mr. Rahe’s advice for the juniors is, “A lot of people think Junior Speech is their moment to be establish who they are at Academy. But who they are in the halls everyday, the person he or she brings to class, that is your statement to the school. Not your speech. Don’t worry so much about it.”
Mr. Carter describes the Junior Speech as “one of the most mentally draining but rewarding experiences at Academy.” His speech was about the death of his father and how it had affected his life. His advice: “Despite the self-induced pressure of the speech, speakers need to realize that the audience is rooting for you, not waiting for you to fail. Realistically, how badly can you mess up? The audience will not know the difference. The Junior Speech tends to psyche people out more than it should, and that is the biggest challenge.”
The Junior Speech has dramatically changed from Mr. Exline’s experience to Mr. Carter’s. Starting sophomore year the anxiety of the speeches are felt. But every student needs to give one, so make the best of this experience.