Upjohn Declamation 2020

The 55th Upjohn Declamation, the School’s major public speaking event of the year, took place on the evening of Monday 3 February. As ever, there was an attentive audience of boarders, parents and staff, as well as members of the Roberts Society. As has been customary for a number of years, the competition was expertly judged by Bobbi Davy, a Felsted Governor since 2007, and she brought real integrity, discernment and clarity of judgement to this challenging task. 

It is interesting to note that such was the quality of the speakers this year, that following a preliminary round, I decided to expand the competition to nine entrants, as I felt that all the speeches deserved the widest possible audience. 

Milly Adshead-Grant’s declamation was a witty and passionate justification of the importance of learning languages and she set out her key arguments in a really coherent and logical way. 

Tom Conlon discussed whether the labels of left and right are redundant in modern political discourse and his scholarly, nuanced and erudite approach enabled him to successfully ‘unpack’ some complex subject matter. 

Jake Maddison’s speech was a dramatic commentary on the race between Scott and Amundsen to the South Pole and I was especially impressed by the way in which he linked the exploits of both men to the present and future context of space exploration. 

Zoia Okulova’s well researched and thoughtful speech on whether humans are really responsible for climate change was impressive for the way in which the audience’s preconceived notions were challenged.

 In her speech Charlotte Perry made a compelling case for the greater use of hydrogen as a fuel for cars. She really engaged the interest of the audience and made judicious use of humour and anecdotes in what was a really well-crafted declamation. 

David Townsend’s declamation on the power of sport made a persuasive case for its transformative power and he strengthened his arguments by substantiating his points with a wide range of well chosen case studies.

Scarlett Walker-Hebborn talked about the dangers of conspiracy theories and by the end of a perceptive and cleverly constructed talk, the audience had been presented with a powerful case in favour of seeing most conspiracy theories as a dangerous mix of half truths and circumstantial evidence promoted by those whose motives cannot always be fully trusted. 

Dominic Wells’ speech with the intriguing title, Not bad while it lasted, was a profound- and in places almost poetic-meditation on the crisis facing humanity in the 21st century. 

Zhansha Yedelgaliyev began memorably by addressing the Headmaster as ‘Mr T’ and then went on to share some fascinating tips about how to live life to the full. Speaking personally, I shall certainly spend a bit more time trying to cultivate good habits and the suggestion of starting each day by thinking of reasons to be grateful, is a suggestion I shall also try to take on board! 
After careful deliberation, our head judge, Bobbi Davy, decided on a winner. In the end, the outcome was decided ‘by the barest of margins’, to quote cricket commentator Ian Smith at the 2019 World Cup Final. In this case, the winning speaker was ahead of the rest of the field by only half-a-mark. Thus, Dominic Wells was adjudged as the well deserved 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, having been inspired, enlightened and challenged.