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Wilson & Smith Win Oratorical Contest

Wilson & Smith Take Top Honors in Oratorical Contest
Posted on 01/23/2020

Tennessee High School juniors took the top two spots in the sixth annual Black History Month-focused 2020 Eastman Oratorical Contest on January 22. Madison Wilson won first place and $1000, and Sydney Smith won second place and $500. As the first-place orator, Madison will present her essay at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the free Symphony of the Mountains Black History Month event, “Our Voices Rise Together,” at Eastman’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center.

“I’m so proud of these young ladies for their inspiring essays,” said Mariel Story, THS English teacher. “They worked hard and stepped out of their comfort zones to deliver poised and articulate words about the contributions of two creative, hard-working black women, Toni Morrison and Jane Wright Cooke, who used their talents to make the world better for all of us.”

Madison and Sydney were among 170 entrants in the contest, which included three other finalists and 10 honorable mentions. Two of these 15 finalists included fellow THS students Emma Cross and Grace Johnson. Eastman Chemical Company sponsored the event, with the five finalists reading their essays at the Eastman Lodge near Bays Mountain Park. The contest was open to high school students from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Eastman conducts a Black History Month Oratorical Contest annually for high school students in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The goal is to inform both students and the public about important contributions made globally by African Americans in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) fields.

A student choosing to participate must submit an original essay about a notable African American contributor. Essays are judged on grammar, how well they demonstrate the African American’s contribution, the credibility and proper sourcing of references, and distinctiveness of the subject and/or topic. Students whose essays are among the top 15 are invited to attend a luncheon during which the top five contenders present their orations and receive monetary rewards.

Madison’s speech, titled “Toni Morrison,” focused on the African American writer she said helped shape American literature. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, becoming the first African American woman to do so. The novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor also won a Pulitzer Prize. She passed away last year.

Sydney presented “Jane Cooke Wright,” a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy. Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. Wright died in 2013.

Congratulations to Maddy and Sydney, as well as Grace and Emma!


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