One of the best parts of the Hays Speaking Contest comes right after the last speech has been given. Sitting in the back of the auditorium it unfolds like a fan around the seven participants who stand in the front of the room. Family, friends, and teachers make their way down to congratulate the students who have spoken their truth, and from the back the fan seems to open up slowly, pushing its way across the stage, and the truth of the night’s words rise up and swirl.
The Hays has been a part of the Proctor fabric for 19 years, ever since former faculty member and trustee John Pendleton hatched the idea. These speeches percolate up from sophomore American Literature sections, first as a common assignment that everyone shares, then as the speech that is voted on by classmates to be presented to the community. Sometimes finalists feel the competing emotions of honor and fear. When they edit, practice, and hone their words, likely the nerves never fully dissipate, but likely also is that the fears are balanced out by support. Faith and belief from teachers, peers, friends, and family carries them forward.
Finding truth, like finding voice, is not happenstance. It takes time. It takes courage and patience. You don't rummage around in a closet and find truth hanging on a hook next to your favorite fleece, and the students who stood in front of the school on Thursday night each revealed something about the work of the journey, a journey that in some cases takes years. They worked for their truth. They worked to free it from the memories where it can sometimes sit, never fully realized, for years. They chipped it out, wrestled it into the present, and presented it to the school.
At the end of the Hays the fan of well wishers spreads and the truth of the night shimmers in the auditorium, sparkles under the stage lights like bits of star fire. It’s a moment to savor. The speeches - a debilitating injury requiring multiple surgeries, a blooming pride of heritage and identity, the death of a parent, the last moments shared with a grandparent, the long, slow, painful recovery from a concussion, the life-saving structure of basketball and family, the deep love for a parent who has lost eyesight - are still close. The students are congratulated, hugged by friends, embraced by family. We know that with time, the details of the speeches will fade and fall away. But we also know that the truth of those speeches will hang like a new constellation in the Proctor community.
We are grateful for the gift.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School