Public Speaking Champ Earns Trip to the UN

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Since joining the SMUS community in 2011, Eva Grant has established herself as a strong voice in support of marginalized issues and has practiced her own brand of speaking truth to power. She has won multiple speech competitions, been featured on television and maintains a hectic schedule of school and service work in the community.

In an interview with the SMUS Review, Eva touches on her public-speaking endeavours, the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth tour she will be on this summer and why she chose to attend SMUS.

Congratulations on winning the trip to the United Nations to deliver your speech! Can you talk a little about the Odd Fellows competition? What made you decide to enter it?

Thanks! I’m quite excited for the trip. I’ve been tutoring and working in order to go, so this is a great culmination to months of work and anticipation!

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Victoria is sponsoring my participation in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had to submit an application outlining my extracurricular activities, volunteer work, public speaking experience, and overall passion for social change and the UN Millennium Development Goals. Then I participated in a speech competition at the Odd Fellows hall in front of judges that included journalists from CTV, CBC and The Times Colonist.

How I got involved is actually a funny story. Mr. Goodman sent me the link about two days before the application deadline and while it seemed perfect for me (the site literally asks: “Do you know a Grade 11 student who loves to sound off about the disturbing things happening in the world today?”), I had neither the time nor the information needed to complete the five 250 word essays needed to enter, let alone memorize an entire speech. By a stroke of luck, the deadline was pushed back by two weeks! I was so overjoyed that I finished my application in one night and began working on my speech.

The topic was “What Millennium Development Goal inspires you and why?” and I chose the goal of maternal health. Not only am I deeply concerned with the global welfare of women, I also recognized that what I considered to be the most important goal (for indeed women are the cornerstones of every stable community) was actually the most off-track goal. In the end, I’m still so grateful to have won and been given this opportunity. All the candidates were extremely well-qualified and passionate and, regardless of the outcome of the competition, I have kept in touch with all of them!

Where will you go on the trip?

I will visit Ottawa, New York (and the UN headquarters), Gettysburg and Washington DC. While there I will participate in UN workshops, prepare to deliver my speech in a larger-scale competition, and tour central Canada and the States!

I’m so excited to meet teenagers from as far away as Sweden and Finland who are all going to be touring with me as we learn about politics and international development! Visiting the UN has been a dream of mine since I was little and most of my speeches (Malala, Odd Fellows, Model UN topics) revolve around the UN and its campaigns. I am absolutely ecstatic to go and can’t wait to further develop both my understanding of global issues and my public speaking skills.

How much research do you conduct for your speeches?

I do hours of research before I write. I have to be sure of my point of view and have a strong thesis statement from the get-go. For the Malala speech [delivered at the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition [IISPSC] in Ontario] I wanted to explore a side no one has considered. So, in addition to mainstream news and media, I conducted research in independent newspapers and websites in Pakistan and searched for her old videos and journal entries. The deeper I went into my research, the more I was convinced that she had been put in grave danger right from the start. The research truly allowed me to clearly explain how she should have been looked after better, because once you get past the mainstream articles of her heroism (and I can never stress enough how amazing she is) I realized that the attempt on her life could have been predicted since at least 2008 and definitely avoided.

Who got you interested in public speaking? When did you begin to discover that you had a gift for public speaking, and especially building strong arguments?

It was a joint effort that almost didn’t include me at all! I was very shy as a kid, and didn’t enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone. I loved writing, but never dreamed there could be an oral component to expressing my ideas. I guess I really got into public speaking in the Grade 9. I recited Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm” in Mr. Common’s English class (I still have fond memories of his class) for Recitations.

From there, it was onto the UVic Model UN in Grade 10, where I was awarded best position paper and started to realize the power of reciting your own ideas as an impetus for change. There was Concours d’Art Oratoire in May of 2013 (I was francophone champion for Grade 10) and the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition (IISPSC) in Ontario. I’m always looking for writing and speaking competitions and opportunities. I now consider myself a public speaker; it’s my passion.

I owe so much to all my teachers, really! To Mr. Lynch and Mr. Goodman for their help with Model UNs, to Ms. Hawes for her tireless and wonderful support for the IISPSC and beyond, to Ms. Casey and Ms. Anderson for all their help with award applications, to Mr. Dewar for helping me realize my love for literature (and for reminding me to always have a strong thesis statement!) and especially to Mr. Common for truly getting me started in the forays of public speaking.

What do you enjoy most about public speaking?

It’s funny, because I’m the kind of person who avoids conflict like the plague. Delivering a persuasive speech, however requires strong and critical thinking: you have to pick a side and stick to it! I enjoy going up on stage and becoming a different person. In these moments, I can be a UN ambassador, a journalist, a lobbyist, a doctor working in a remote area, anyone! It’s this aspect that I love about public speaking: embodying ideas and beliefs and letting go of insecurities.

How much do you practice your speeches?

One thing I can’t stress enough about public speaking: practice! I practice in front of my family, my friends, I film myself, I get my mother to time it, I practice fluid movement and elocution. You can’t just step up to the podium and start speaking; you really have to embody every nuance, every word, every pause.

Talk a little about your educational journey. What made you decide to come to SMUS?

I started at SMUS in Grade 9 in the fall of 2011. I had been home-schooled for a few years and educated in the francophone school system. My family and I had spent lots of time living in South America and the rural interior of BC, but for my first year of high school I wanted to make a conscious decision, as I knew high school was the lead-in to university and everything that follows after that.

I had never felt particularly challenged by school curricula or close to my classmates; my old schools had few clubs and limited opportunities. When my parents and I started researching SMUS, I knew right away that I wanted to go there more than any other school. Now I can take advantage of clubs, advanced and AP courses, and international opportunities. I enjoy the personalized aspect at SMUS, which I had never experienced in other schools. In Grade 9, I wasn’t challenged in Spanish 9 so I was moved to Spanish 10A. The smaller class sizes allow meaningful discussions and deeper understanding and I always feel I can talk to my teachers.

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