The East Providence High School Alumni Association held its third annual James E. Bates Memorial Oratory Contest this week at the Riverside Branch Library. Ten upperclassmen delivered orations in response to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address in which he spoke those now-famous words: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
The Contest, which is named for the longest-serving principal in High School history, provides a public forum for intellectual discourse in which students and alumni alike are able to share their views on issues of civic interest. This year, members of the EPHS community ranging from the Class of 1949 to the Class of 2012 took part in the Contest, which is a true testament to the Alumni Association’s commitment to uniting all Townie alumni.
The student-orators included Ethan Zawatsky ’11, Abby Ricci ’11, Anne Zarembka ’12, Sarah Phillips ’12, Natalie Beauparlant ’12, Daniel Isabel ’12, Samantha Carroll ’11, Rosemary Concepcion ’11, Catherine Browning ’12, and Kelsey Lima ’11. These students were invited to deliver their speeches by the Alumni Association following a very competitive application process in which several students applied to speak. This year’s pool of applicants was the largest and most impressive that the Alumni Association has received in the three year history of the Contest, which made selecting ten speakers a difficult process.
Following introductory remarks by Master of Ceremonies and retired EPHS English teacher, Mr. Arnold McConnell ’67, the student-orators took to the podium and did not disappoint. Drawing on their expansive knowledge of history, current events, volunteerism, and social policy, the student orators delivered speeches which were both inspirational and well-reasoned. In addition to exploring the philosophical import of President Kennedy’s words, the student-orators also suggested several ways in which the President’s words might be put into action.
Dr. Kenneth R. Walker ’49, this year’s keynote speaker, spoke following the students’ speeches, and was impressed by their analysis of the President’s words. Dr. Walker, who currently serves as the Chairman of the State Parole Board, shared his wit and wisdom with the audience, and encouraged all those in attendance to lead lives of true character. He read from Michael Josephson’s poem, “What Will Matter,” to emphasize his message.
Following Dr. Walker’s remarks, the Judging Panel met privately to determine the first, second, and third place finishers in the Contest. Ms. Christine Carroll ’69, retired EPHS Director of Guidance, Ms. Christine Jenkins ’76, Alumni Association secretary, and Mr. James Manchester, retired EPHS English teacher, judged the student-orators for both content and delivery. After a long period of discussion, the Judging Panel awarded Isabel with first place in this year’s Contest. Browning was honored with second place, and Beauparlant received third place.
Isabel received a $100 check from the Alumni Association for winning the contest. In his speech, “A Call to Light the World,” Isabel noted that although many contemporary Americans fail to heed President Kennedy’s words, it is the responsibility of every American to defend freedom by remaining steadfast in one’s beliefs, giving back to one’s community, and being serious about one’s civic responsibility.
Browning and Beauparlant each received a gift certificate to Gregg’s Restaurant for their excellent speeches. Browning noted in her speech that a strong educational system will be necessary if President Kennedy’s words are to be acted upon. Beauparlant agreed, and also noted the importance of serving America in the military and by volunteering.