On Monday evening, June 4 at the Riverside Library, the East Providence High School Alumni Association once again sponsored the James E. Bates Memorial Oratory Contest. Organizers held the first contest four years ago as a way to highlight the intellectual abilities of the students of EPHS. It has since grown into an annual event and one of the important outings for the Alumni Association. This year, the students who spoke at the JBMOC impressed the crowd with their take on a quote from Woodrow Wilson’s first inaugural speech given one hundred years ago. Wilson’s words reflect many of the issues that we are experiencing in the United States today. Here is the quote about which the students spoke.
The Nation has been deeply stirred, stirred by a solemn passion, stirred by the knowledge of wrong, of ideals lost, of government too often debauched and made an instrument of evil…We know our task to be no mere task of politics but a task which shall search us through and through, whether we be able to understand our time and the need of our people, whether we be indeed their spokesmen and interpreters, whether we have the pure heart to comprehend and the rectified will to choose our high course of action.
The first orator was Jonathan Gomez (‘12) whose knowledge of Woodrow Wilson and the Gilded Age set the bar for the rest of the speakers. Jon espoused his views on efficient government (which he has honed as a member of the Teenage Republicans club). Many spectators agreed that Jon’s oration was the most scholarly of the event – and it was no surprise as Jon has long been known as much for his scholarship as he is known for being an All-State saxophonist.
Next up to the podium was Jenna Stringfellow, the only junior who took part in the contest. The Stringfellows have been venerated for their performance on the athletic fields of EPHS for more than a few generations. Jenna reinforced the reputation of her family of scholar-athletes by expressing the theme that history repeats itself. She left the audience with a question about whether or not the United States would learn from the lessons of the past.
Stephanie DeCarvalho knows how to hold an audience. It might be her experience as President of Best Buddies or the time that she spent in front of the camera on The Townie News, but Stephanie exhibited a great deal of poise in front of the audience at the Riverside Library. Stephanie put Wilson’s words into a modern context and offered hope for a return to a government for the people.
There was no doubt at the end of Dominic Leonardo’s oration on which side of the political spectrum he sits. As a founding member of the Teenage Republicans club at EPHS, Dominic used his four minutes to campaign against President Obama. In what was the most politically charged oration of the evening, Dominic stated that it is the fault of the current president for the economic state of the country. Reflecting Wilson’s belief that the government must “understand the need of our people”, Dominic called for an end to bipartisan bickering and heralded cooperation among politicians. The crowd at the JBMOC received a preview of what may be the future of politics.
When it comes to performing solo in front of an audience, Amanda Horton may be in a class of her own. Amanda is an award winning figure skater and she is used to being on a big stage and pulling off difficult maneuvers. In her oration, Amanda suggested that the United States will regain its form as it has throughout the history of the country. As Wilson helped to right the country, current politicians and the American people will bring our country back from adversity.
Before the contest, Andrew Butler was concerned that his use of a prop might be too much for an austere oratory contest. The audience, however, reacted well to the strumming of his ukulele as Andrew compared the instrument to the United States government. Using the experience that he has acquired writing songs for his band Andrew and the Safari Rangers, Andrew pointed out, to the delight of the audience, that government cannot be “made an instrument of evil."
Coming into the contest, most of the contestants knew to watch out for Matthew Kleyla. Matt has been a member of the EPHS Musical Theatre Group for four years and his singing prowess is renown throughout the community. When Matt approached the podium and asked the audience how they were doing, some spectators wondered if Matt’s message would match his demeanor. In other words, was Matt Kleyla an actor or a scholar – or both? Matt did not disappoint as he ended his oration with a quote from Paul Harvey who said, “In times like these, it is helpful to remember that there have always been times like these.”
In the final oration of the evening, Ryan Brown, an officer of the Student Council and DECA espoused a sentiment that brought Wilson’s quote into modern politics. Ryan spoke about how Woodrow Wilson’s speech reflects the politics of today – specifically the upcoming presidential election. It was a fitting conclusion to the student orations as it tied the politics of yesterday to those of today and reminded audience members just how important it is for Americans to analyze history to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Before the judges broke to choose the winners, the audience was addressed by noted alumna, Molly Hawksley, a 2005 graduate of EPHS. Also a graduate of Brown University, Molly spoke about her years in high school and college and how those experiences shaped who she is today. She also explained to the contest participants, most of whom will soon be alumni, the importance community. The event, after all, is a celebration of community and it was fitting that Molly reminded the audience exactly why we come together at events like the JBMOC.
Following a brief intermission at which time the audience of Townies, young and old, socialized and enjoyed some refreshments, judges James Manchester and Christine Jenkins presented the awards. The audience and contestants waited eagerly for the decision – one which the judges stated was among the most difficult in the four years of the contest. The third prize was awarded to Andrew Butler, whose ukulele strumming must have done the trick as he took home a gift card from Greggs Restaurant. Stephanie DeCarvalho was the second place winner. She showed the same poise in accepting her prize as she did when she presented her oration. Finally, the first place award, replete with a $100 check went to Matt Kleyla, whose theatrical training and AP level coursework enabled him to convince the judges that he was the clear cut winner.
At the end of the night, everyone who attended the event agreed that it was another display of scholarship and community – the key ingredients in that concept that we call Townie Pride. In summarizing another successful event, EPHS Alumni Association President John Butler (EPHS Class of 2007) extolled the abilities of the participants.
“Everyone involved in the contest really came through once again. The students truly displayed insight, creativity, and impressive oratory skills,” said Butler.
Butler also brought the evening into context, reminding us about the importance of events like the JBMOC.
“We need to come together like this to remind everyone in the community about the quality of the students at EPHS and also to celebrate the things that bind us together. I think Mr. Bates would have been proud of the school that he helped to build.”