This year's Oratory Competitions in Dallas and Houston took on special significance as participating students reflected on the upcoming inauguration of the country's first minority president.
More than 250 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students, representing a total of 26 schools in Dallas and Houston, competed in preliminary contests over the past month for the right to represent their schools at today's final competitions. Finalists were judged by panels of local well-known community and business leaders on their delivery, stage presence, decorum, content interpretation, and memorization of five-minute speeches written by the participants. This year's topic was "If Dr. King were alive today, what do you think he would say about current events?"
"This year's topic is especially poignant as these students will be witnesses to history with the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Obama," says Steve Good, Gardere Wynne Sewell managing partner. "It is our hope that, as a result of the oratory competition, these young students will embrace the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize his continued influence on our culture, society and the political landscape."
Sarah-Elizabeth Thompson, a fifth-grader at Thomas L. Marsalis Elementary School, captured the 17th annual Dallas competition with a speech thanking Dr. King for inspiring change so that "our skin is no longer our sin." However, in pointing to the pride he would have felt over the coming inauguration, the 10-year-old emphasized the need to continue to work hard and demand more because "knowledge is free, you just have to bring your own container."
Troie Seawood, 10, a fifth-grader at Clara Oliver Elementary School placed second. Third place was Ana Laureano, 11, a fifth-grader at Amelia Earhart Learning Center.
Amongst 11 finalists, Gerra Gistand took the top prize in Houston with her engaging speech, proclaiming "the dream is almost fulfilled, and the promised land is within reach," referring to the election of President-elect Barack Obama. This fourth-grader from MacGregor Elementary commented that there are still many areas where continued improvements are needed and encouraged her fellow students to take responsibility for their own conduct and "dress for success." Her inspirational speech received a standing ovation after she concluded with a brief passage from Sam Cook's "A Change is Gonna Come," a song of hope for the Civil Rights Movement, singing "It's been a long, a long time coming".
Second place went to Christian Burgs, a fourth-grader at Garden Villas Elementary, and fifth-grader Joel Espitia from Crespo Elementary was awarded third place in the 13th annual competition.
"The oratory competition provides an opportunity for our youth to commemorate Dr. King's legacy," noted Claude Treece, Houston event chair and Gardere operating partner. "Each year, the students continue to impress the community and their peers with inspiring perspectives on Dr. King's example."
Last year, Dalton Sherman, winner of the Dallas competition, showcased Dr. King's dream to millions of Americans across the country. In addition to reciting his competition speech at an event honoring Dr. Maya Angelou, Sherman became a YouTube sensation with his oratory skills and went on to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in 1993 by the law firm of Gardere & Wynne to commemorate the life of Dr. King. Presented in the spirit of learning and celebration, the program was designed to highlight the cultural diversity of the community while recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of elementary school students. In 1995,
Dallas' Gardere & Wynne merged with Houston's Sewell & Riggs, creating the law firm now known as Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. The Dallas oratory competition was embraced by the new Houston office, with the attorneys establishing a similar program in Houston in 1997. All finalists receive savings bonds and other prizes.
Photographs of the winner are available upon request.
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Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, an AmLaw 200 firm, was founded in 1909 and is one of the Southwest's largest full-service law firms. With offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Mexico City, Gardere provides legal services to private and public companies and individuals in areas of energy, litigation, corporate, tax, environmental, labor and employment, intellectual property, and financial services.
SOURCE: Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP
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