Two Roxborough High sophomores address teenage realities in Philadelphia speech competition

Two Roxborough High School students were selected as finalists in a long-running public-speaking contest held last week in Center City.

Sophomores Deaira Gooden and Brienne Krier were among 14 student speakers from nine Philadelphia public high schools at Thursday’s 23rd-Annual All-Academies Speech Competition, an event sponsored by Philadelphia Academies, Inc. in conjunction with Independence Blue Cross.

Aimed at helping students strengthen their oral and written communication skills and develop community networks, the finalists spoke about the realities of the teenage years, being judged on their presence, content, poise, and elocution.

Business leaders and education partners from several area organizations served as judges, and students participated in a coaching session with representatives from Toastmasters International on “The Art of Public Speaking.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The competition is a signature program of Philadelphia Academies, Inc., a nonprofit youth development organization that expands life and economic options for public high school students through career-focused programming and activities, according to a press release.

“This is one of our favorite events of the year,” said Kevin Dow, co-facilitator of the competition. “It gives us an opportunity to see how our young students are performing in their careers as students, and how we can hold them up to higher expectations, because they clearly hold us up to higher expectations.”

‘What we want you to know about us’ 

On Thursday, the 14 students were each asked to address the subject, “What we want you (adults, parents, teachers, employers, etc.) to know about us and ‘our world.'”

The first of the two Roxborough High students to speak, Brienne Krier spoke about the social pressures attendant to the teenage years.

Asking the audience to imagine a young person they care about, she said, “During school, they go through peer pressure; at home, they must endure their parent’s expectations and, in the midst of all this, [they must complete] their school studies.”

While thanking adults for their guidance, Krier noted that these pressures can affect performance, and observed that, “All we need sometimes is a little push, a handful of motivation, and someone to listen to us.”

Deaira Gooden spoke about the use of social media as platforms for peer pressure.

“Should I be judged because I like country music, and in my neighborhood that is not the norm?” she asked. “Should I be harassed online, for the whole world to see?”

As a result, Gooden observed that many students hide their true selves for self-preservation.

“The biggest thing we teenagers want you adults to know is that we may put on a brave front, but in reality, we’re scared,” she said. “We’re scared not to be a part of that status quo.”

Second-place honors 

While the top prize ultimately went to Tyshanek Sutton of Abraham Lincoln High School in Northeast Philadelphia, Gooden received second-place honors in the competition.

Roxborough High Principal Stephen Brandt told Newsworks on Friday that the faculty, students, and staff of the school were very proud of Gooden.

Noting that Roxborough High has clinched victory in previous Philadelphia Academy, Inc. debates, Brandt said it would have been nice to continue that tradition, but stated that “second place is still a great accomplishment.”

During the debate, competition co-facilitator and emcee Saleem Wright said that the students not only raised a host of pertinent issues – they sought to address them as well.

“They’re not just griping and complaining,” he said. “All of them are offering solutions to the issues that they feel they have as students.”

Wright’s observation was underscored by Lincoln High sophomore Darla LaCroix during her speech.

“These are the ways teens would like to be viewed – as smart, talented and disciplined,” said LaCroix, “A positive remark can go a long way.”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal