The 54th Upjohn Declamation, the School’s major public speaking event of the year, took place on Saturday 2nd February. Having spent several weeks researching and practising their speeches, seven of the Sixth Form’s best public speakers gathered together to present their ideas to an appreciative audience of students, parents and staff.
As has been customary for the last few years, once again the competition was expertly judged by Bobbi Davy, a Felsted governor since 2007 and as ever, she brought real integrity to this challenging task and a perceptive appreciation of what is required to really engage with and win over an audience.
I am pleased to note that this year we had to run a preliminary competition in order to establish the eight ‘finalists’ who were as follows: Anel Alpysbayeva, William Barber, Oliver Butler, Joel Himi, Monty Jenkins, Charlotte Perry, Elliot Reeve and David Townsend.
This shows the strength in depth of public speaking at Felsted and also the passion and intellectual curiosity that exist amongst the student body. Wendy Wang, Henry Dean, and Ben Farrow all delivered thoughtful and well-argued speeches in the initial round and in other less competitive years would undoubtedly have been finalists. William Barber’s illness on the day of competition meant that we did not get to hear his interesting, balanced and empathetic speech on whether terrorism can ever be justified. Hopefully, he will put his name forward again next year!
Monty’s declamation was a witty and humorous commentary on the fact that we may be too quick to take offence on occasions and he made very effective use of rhetorical devices. Anel addressed the issue of whether affirmative action can still be justified in the USA and she explored the paradoxes of a complex issue with great sensitivity, supporting her arguments with well-chosen examples.
Oliver Butler discussed the issue of what constitutes a life worth living and displaying a real sense of wisdom; he certainly gave all of us much to ponder about how we can take small steps to live better lives on a daily basis.
Joel Himi’s speech on the scourge of plastic pollution displayed a passionate sense of conviction that really won over the audience; her powerful rhetoric really reinforced the urgency of her environmental message.
Charlotte Perry’s speech, entitled Electric Dreams, made entertaining use of props and was a confident and impeccably researched investigation of the economic and environmental cost of what, at first glance, appears to be the ‘clean’ technology behind electric cars.
Elliot Reeve has been one of the School’s most polished and erudite public speakers over a number of years and his speech with the intriguing title, Goldfish and skateboarders, was a profound and witty philosophical tour de force, which concluded with a heartfelt defence of human innovation and creativity.
I am confident that David Townsend is the only speaker in the competition’s long history to begin his declamation, ‘judges, ladies, gentlemen and Dad!’ His powerful defence of freedom of speech in the face of the constraints that can sometimes be imposed by the state was delivered with great verve and his arguments rested on a solid core of political knowledge.
After careful deliberation, our head judge, Bobbi Davy, decided that Elliot Reeve should be the winner of this year’s Upjohn Declamation.
In conclusion, all the speakers deserve a huge amount of credit for volunteering to share their thoughts with their peer group and their enthusiasm and passion for their subjects is an extremely encouraging sign that a sense of intellectual engagement remains integral to what it means to be a Felstedian. As ever, I came away from the competition really inspired and uplifted!