Speech contest rewarding experience

Contest winners (left to right): Samantha Dhaliwal (3rd place), Isaac Halverson (1st place), SRSLA Chapter President Chuck Messick, Taylor Burke (2nd place).

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach when I walked into my first Savannah River Site Leadership Association Speech Contest March 3. The room was filled with experienced upperclassman and I was the only freshman.


The SRS Leadership Association is an organization for business managers. This annual speech contest on leadership is hosted for 9th-12th graders as part of their community outreach program. The goal of the sponsors is to promote communication skills amongst students. Four levels of competition are scheduled culminating in the national competition where the first prize is $ 4,000.

The rules were strict. Each contestant was identified by number only. We could not reference our schools and were sequestered in a separate room so that no contestant could hear another's speech. The audience was instructed not to clap or make any remarks during or after the four to six minute speeches. Judges from the Toastmasters Association, a professional group of public speakers, graded each speaker. Unfortunately, I was the final contestant to present.

My topic on leadership concerned the role of solitude and introspection and I gave Steve Jobs as my example. As luck would have it, he was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal that day, so I revised my speech while riding in the car on the way to Aiken Technical College where the competition was held. I was able to muster one audible laugh from the audience and judges during my presentation. Otherwise the silence and lack of reaction from those listening to me was disconcerting.

Those that listened to the speeches shared with me the incredible range of themes and styles utilized by the teen participants. One contestant drew references from historic battles, while another related his personal experiences in ROTC. Participation in high school sports programs as a metaphor for learning leadership was the theme of one speaker, while other contestants delved into interpersonal skills of leaders and the important qualities of integrity and courage.

Some contestants were very dramatic and walked around while speaking, others casual with their hands in their pockets, while I stood at the podium, afraid that my voice would not carry without the aid of the microphone.

The results were tallied and winners announced. Senior Isaac Halverson from Westminster Schools of Augusta took first place and the $500 prize. Second place went to last year's SRSLA local chapter and regional winner, senior Taylor Burke from Adelphi Christian Academy in Aiken. I found myself speechless when I placed third. All the participants found the evening worthwhile and a great experience.

Teen Board Member Samantha Dhaliwal is a freshman at Augusta Preparatory Day School.