Sixteen-year-old Alexandra Vaz displayed her talents as a skilled orator when she won the Optimist International Oratorical Competition Caribbean District finals, at the Television Jamaica Studios in April.
Presenting on the topic: “Is There a Fine Line Between Optimism and Reality?”Alexandra finished ahead of eleven other participants from Jamaica, The Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados. The competition is designed for young people to gain experience in public speaking and provide them with the opportunity to compete for a college scholarship.
“I am very excited about winning and taking on the journey to the international competition,” she said. “I am proud to be representing Jamaica and the Caribbean; and will do my best. My hope is to let the Jamaican flag fly high, as I aspire to win.”
This was not a first for Alexandra. She has won other speech competitions and received several medals representing Davis Primary School from Old Harbour, St. Catherine and Ardenne High School in Kingston in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), up to the National level. When a family friend suggested that she enter the Optimist International Oratorical Competition, she took on the challenge.
“After several years of entering the JCDC competition, a family friend said there was a competition, which he believed would fit my abilities,” she explained. “He let me enter at the club level and I moved up from there.”
Alexandra, who watches Netflix in her spare time, will represent the Caribbean District at the World Championships in the United States of America (USA) in June. She said preparing for the competition was a learning experience.
“The competition boosted my confidence, in terms of believing in myself, because the judges always told us that if you believe in what you are saying, it makes everyone else believe you. But, it was nerve-racking, because I had to believe I could deliver it well, hence the pressure. I wasn’t nervous about standing before an audience. I was more worried about how I would deliver after all the research and preparation,” she said.
Alexandra dreams of being an entrepreneur after completing her studies. The fifth form Ardenne High School student wants to be in catering and believes that, apart from creating appetizing meals, she needs other skills to be successful. She also wishes to open a theatre house in Jamaica.
In addition to being able to prepare scrumptious meals and knowledge about accounting, she believes that being articulate and confident are assets which will be beneficial. Those are some of the reasons for honing her skills as a speaker in various speech competitions.
“To be an entrepreneur, you need to be able to speak with your clients, build your network for investment, and persuade persons to come onboard with you,” she said. “You must be convincing and persuasive, and a good speaker can do that.”
Sanya Wallace, senior manager, strategic planning, reporting and marketing, JN Money Services, owners and operators of the renowned brand; and, one of the main sponsors of the competition said, “The level of preparation and articulation from the contestants are commendable.”
“We have been sponsors of the competition in The Cayman Islands for a number of years and we have always been impressed with the level of preparation and articulation there. This year, we decided to extend our sponsorship to Jamaica because it is another way in which we continue to support education and youth development.
“I am proud of Alexandra and the other contestants. Many persons, regardless of age, fear public speaking. The fact that they were able to stand before an audience and present on a topic indicates their confidence and preparation,” Ms. Wallace stated.
“At JNMS, we believe in the education and development of young people; and we commend their participation in this competition,” she said. “This is an excellent way to assist young people to develop confidence; and refine their research methods, as well as their presentation skills. They’re all winners and we wish them well.”
Alexandra’s mother, Charmaine Samuels-Cole said she was proud of her daughter.
“I am elated,” she said. “I cried tears of joy and could hardly speak for a moment. When I heard that the winner was ‘Speaker D,’ I tried to remember which letter Alexandra had been assigned. I am grateful to God.”
“When she told me that she wanted to enter, I encouraged her because she has always entered JCDC competitions and performed well. Therefore, any competition she wants to enter, I always give her my full support.”
First held in 1928, the Oratorical Contest is the longest-running program sponsored by Optimist International.
Interested youngsters are required to prepare a four-to-five minutes speech, on the assigned topic presented in their local Optimist Club’s contest. The speeches are judged at the Club level, Zone level, District Regional level (if needed) and then at the District level. Clubs and Districts may choose to allow contestants to compete via online streaming. It is open to youngsters under the age of 18, as of October 1st of the current Optimist International Contest year.
Following the finals, scholarships are awarded to students in the USA and the Caribbean in US dollars; and in Canadian dollars for Canadian participants. At the District level, scholarships in the sum of US$2,500, US$1,500 and US$1,000 are awarded to the first, second and third place winners, respectively. The winner of the district contest has the opportunity to enter the World Championships, which is hosted in St. Louis, Missouri in the USA.