The Hays Speaking Prize is the brainchild of former trustee, parent, and teacher, John Pendleton, who served as a judge in tonight’s competition alongside Andrea Costanzo, Ewa Chrusciel, Joan Katz. Named in honor of former Bowdoin College debate team standout and former Proctor Academy Board of Trustees Member, Bill Hays, this annual speaking competition among sophomore American Literature students remains a highlight of the Winter Term in its 21st year. Read excerpts of this year's finalist speeches below.
Ada '22 opened the evening with a passionate plea to embrace local farms and food sources. She shared, "As a culture, we are filling our time jars up without really thinking about what is important. We stop at the grocery store on the way home from work and pick up food for dinner. We don’t think twice that the food we just bought doesn’t grow on the shelves. We are so focused on convenience and getting as much done as possible that we don’t take the extra time to think about where our food is coming from. We don’t want to plan our time around going to the farmers market on Saturday morning because that is not as easy as shopping at the grocery store, which is open every day for our convenience. However, the grocery store is not leaving any room for the health benefits of local food. Not only healthy for our bodies but healthy for our planet and our communities. If we, as a culture, start taking the time to consider where our food is coming from; we are taking a major step in the right direction."
Kelley '22 followed with a powerful self-reflection on the depression she has experienced in her life and the importance of therapy, relationships, and the sport of hockey to her self-care. She wrote, "Most people don’t understand why I’m so obsessed with it, but hockey has always been a sanctuary for me. The day that I felt so glued to my bed that I couldn’t gather enough strength to get up and go get on the ice was when I knew I was at my worst. When you feel like your last safe place isn’t even there for you anymore, that’s when fear starts to set in. You fear that you’ll always be stuck in this same level between reality and dreams in an apathetic state. You fear that you’ll never be the person that you used to be again. You fear that you’ve let down everyone in your life. Most of all, you fear yourself, but at the same time, you don’t fear anything because you can’t feel anything."
The first speech of the night saw Johnny '22 share insights into how he uses humor to offset the daily stresses in his life. He shared, "I use comedy to deal with stress, disappointment, and sadness. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how busy life seems to be these days. With this busyness from life's great adventure we are left with more tasks than we can juggle. Because of this, many students suffer from extreme stress. If you were to ask my roommate what I do when I have too much work, he'd tell you that I would, 'Make some stupid joke, chuckle, then put my headphones on and get down to business.'"
Jake '22 delivered a very serious, well-researched speech on suicide, warning signs, and the importance of speaking up when you are concerned about someone. A topic very close to home for many of us, he reminded us that while many joke about self-harm without the intent of action, we just never know how someone is actually feeling. He shared, "Although many of us do find comfort in comedy, as Johnny just pointed out so well, when talking to friends about suicide and depression, we want to be careful not to invalidate their struggle, which may make them feel uncomfortable about seeking help from their friends or others in the future."
Bryson '22 used an analogy of the 90% of icebergs we cannot see to illustrate the need for us to develop deep relationships with our best friends, and not just superficial bonds. He shared, "As we go through life, we make friends and lose them, fall in love and out, know people from birth, and meet others in the most unexpected ways. Regardless of the circumstances, any good relationship involves each individual digging deeper to see what the other is all about, what their ninety percent is. Without understanding the ninety percent, the relationship will never evolve, will never grow stronger, and most of all, never be a true, healthy, and ever-giving relationship." He added, "I know hundreds of people through the 10% that is visible to the naked eye, but the number of friends I have that I know about the other 90% is significantly less. It is truly important to understand that every iceberg has 90% of itself hidden. Knowing this can teach people how important it is to be a little kinder in their everyday life because you really never know what somebody may have going on in their lives, and you may not know everybody's 90%."
Grace '22 took the stage second, sharing a powerful reflection on the loss of her beloved Aunt Joce who lived with Retts Syndrome her whole life, and the merciless bullying both Joce and Grace's mom endured. She connected her family's experience with her aunt's disability with the unforgettable time spent with Special Olympics New Hampshire at Proctor this fall, "Although I always think about Joce, the interest in writing this speech came to me one night when I opened up the bottom drawer of my dorm-room desk and the napkin I had kept with a handwritten note from Owen, my Special Olympics new-found friend, was sitting in front of me. I thought back to that day full of hugs, activities, and some of the widest smiles I had ever seen, immediately thinking of how much Joce would have loved that experience and how much she would have appreciated it. I think a common theme that our Proctor community realized that day was how much happiness is gained for both people with or without a disability when you form a new friendship. Owen told me that afternoon how glad he was to have made me his new friend, and that simple statement absolutely filled me with happiness. Owen may have a disability but that didn’t stop him from sharing his joy for life, meeting new kids on campus and trying new sports and activities. He showed me that acceptance and inclusion improves the lives of all kids with and without disabilities. The difficulty of the goodbye hugs at the end of the day was just another reminder of how grateful I was to have come across such a wonderful person. I thought of my goodbye hug with Joce, that tragic day we lost her and how hard that was, but I realized that the days she spent with us while she was living, was such quality time."
Brynne '22 closed the evening by sharing about her favorite childhood memories (sibling Christmas Eve sleepovers at her home) and the ephemeral nature of childhood within the context of our tendency to wish for yesterday or tomorrow and in the process ignore today. She wrote, "What many experiences have taught me, my Christmas Eve sleepovers most profoundly, is that we shouldn't wish for yesterday or stress about tomorrow. We should focus on the now, the current, the present. The future will come whether we think about it or not, so there’s no need to worry about it so much. Of course, I’m not proposing that we completely stop planning ahead and become super unorganized and not care about our futures at all. I’m saying that we should be taking advantage of special moments in our lives, and practicing gratitude for those moments. To stop and enjoy the moments we are living in right now. I encourage all of us to think about what would happen if, as human beings, we made an effort to be more present. To be more grateful for our lives and the things and people in it right now, not in the past and not in the future. My siblings and I no longer have Christmas Eve sleepovers. I would give anything to relive those moments from my childhood that I know I will cherish forever. Sometimes there’s no way to realize how much you’ll miss something until it’s gone."