By MADELINE CLARK
Walk into Colchester High School history teacher Ben Beaudoin’s classroom after school on Wednesday, and you’ll find a rambunctious crowd: Teens chatting, cartooning on the whiteboard, passing a football. But soon, Beaudoin has them called to attention and ready to recite.
It’s both Beaudoin’s and all 16 students’ first year on the CHS Speech Team, and the crew has already placed third two times in local tournaments.
“It’s been a real learning experience,” Beaudoin said. “It’s been a blast.”
Each Wednesday, from 2:30 to 4 p.m., the team meets to practice group skills and individual performances in preparation for its Saturday meets. Topic categories range from Impromptu—in which students have one minute to prepare a three-minute speech on a topic randomly selected seconds before— to Extemporaneous—an 8-10 minute presentation on a current event, in which the student must create a persuasive argument—to Poetry & Literature and Dramatic Duo among others.
The CHS team, notably the largest team in the state, covers all spectrums of speech performance. Beaudoin said topics run the gamut from race and violence to comedy.
Freshman Gloria Kigonya brings passion and intensity to her recitations of two poems: “I Could Ask But I think They Use Tweezers” by Aziza Barnes and “How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way” by Martín Espada, both of which focus on violence against people of color in America.
“I wanted to bring awareness to the things that happen in our country,” Kigonya said. “I’m part of the African American community, and I wanted to bring that here in Vermont and represent the people and share their stories.”
Competing in the poetry category requires tapping into emotions, controlling body language and rhythm. “These poems are definitely more intense and serious so you really have to focus on what you’re saying and make sure you deliver it in the right way,” Kigonya said.
During her performance of “I Could Ask,” Kigonya gestures to her head, heart and kidneys as she explains how blood stops flowing to those areas when a bullet enters the body, adding both emphasis and gravity to the poem.
“The poems I chose are kind of mature; like, I don’t think a lot of ninth-graders would have chosen these poems,” she said. “But I knew I could do them.”
Do them, indeed: Kigonya received first place in a recent tournament and hopes to continue the trend in two upcoming meets and in February’s state competition. But regardless of rank, Kigonya said she’s learning valuable life skills on the team. Public speaking has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her practice abilities she will need as she grows up.
“I’m really interested in activism,” she said. “Some of my role models are very intelligent, and they speak on issues around the world, and I wanted to be able to do that in my future.”
Dramatic Duo Jordan Clark and Alex Daigneault, both juniors, take their performance in a completely different direction. As a tandem team, they perform an eight-minute vignette inspired by the comedy film “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” telling a story of two high-schoolers traveling through time to learn about subjects for their history class term paper.
The catch: Clark and Daigneault cannot touch or look at one another while they perform. Their gaze must be set on the judges and audience before them.
Neither of the students had previous experience with public speaking. “We got nagged about [joining speech] for awhile and so we said we’d try it out,” Daigneault recalled.
“It’s really fun, actually,” Clark added.
According to Beaudoin, the team has become a true community despite students’ varied interests. “It’s like the sitcom unconventional family that makes it work,” Daigneault said.
According to Kigonya, the teammates keep in touch outside of school and are even hosting their own Secret Santa party. And while everyone has their sights set on states, Kigonya said there’s reward enough in the friendships she’s fostered.
The team has two tournaments in for January before heading to states, and some students could progress from there to nationals. But their adviser is pleased with their progress regardless.
“The most powerful thing for me is that these kids are getting up at like 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings, voluntarily, … to go and practice important skills while talking about things that matter to them,” he said.