On Saturday 12th May, at Exmouth Community College near the city of Exeter, Finlay Cooper, Mark Connolly and Eilidh McCrudden (SV) were crowned National Champions at the Final of the Rotary’s Youth Speaks competition.
Thousands of young people take part in this prestigious competition each year. The aim of Youth Speaks is to aid the development of public speaking and speech writing skills for school pupils, providing an opportunity for young people to voice their views in increasingly substantial auditoriums. A main speaker, supported by a chair person and vote of thanks, are required to talk for six minutes on a subject of their choice. He or she is then asked a question that they must answer without preparation time. Teams first compete at club level, then district level and then regional level before the national finals take place.
This year it was Finlay Cooper, Mark Connolly and Eilidh McCrudden, who first saw off competition from Gryffe High School in the club round, before taking on seven Glasgow schools at district level. For the team members, to have won at district level was achievement enough but once victory was realised in Dundee, and they were declared best school in the region (covering all of Scotland and the North of England) the team’s confidence began to grow.
Mark Connolly spoke on ‘The Power of Music’, exploring the influence and impact of music across history and finishing by sharing a deeply personal account of seeing the impact music had on his grandmother who suffered from dementia. His question on the afternoon – ‘should doctors consider music therapy as an alternative to medicinal prescriptions?’ – seemed to pose no great challenge for Mark. He quipped, “I hope there aren’t any doctors in the audience because they are not going to like my answer”, before offering a succinct and direct response in which he referenced a number of different illnesses for which music can prove beneficial as a treatment.
Finlay Cooper, the chairperson of the proceedings, was professional in his delivery, using humour with the lightest of touches and setting the tone for St Columba’s presentation. Perhaps most impressive, however, was the school’s vote of thanks, Eilidh McCrudden, who began this journey simply as a way of overcoming her nerves when it comes to speaking publically. With each round, the colour would drain from Eilidh’s face before delivering her two minute speech, but not on this occasion - in a considered and measured way, with not so much as a shake of the hand or quiver of voice, she summarised Mark’s speech together with his response to the question and provided a fitting end to an outstanding presentation.
The calibre of competition was incredibly high, with offerings from (as the chief adjudicator noted) the ‘crème de la crème’ of public speakers from across the country. So impressed were the organisers of the competition that they have invited Mark to speak at the Rotary’s annual conference in order to highlight the charitable work the Rotary do in the field of music therapy.
John Douglas, a committed Rotarian and a member of the Gryffe Valley Rotary club, who had been in attendance at each round of the competition, teary eyed, commented on the extraordinary nature of the achievement. Andrew Macleman of Gryffe Valley Rotary Club, on hearing of the pupils’ success remarked that, ‘they are a credit to themselves, their families, their school and our Club’.
Mrs Andrea Angus, described the achievement as “outstanding” and went on to say, that “An extraordinary number of our pupils achieve success at national or international level in so many areas – sport, music, debating. What we offer here at St Columba’s is a school in which every pupil is nurtured and encouraged to aspire to greatness. It is a school where confidence grows and a school in which a pupil with a fear of speaking publically can challenge that fear and go on to be declared a national public speaking champion. I couldn’t be more proud.”