October 6, 2003

Cornell Hosts 4H Club's Public Speaking Contest

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After months of planning, the New York State 4H club held it’s 5th annual public speaking competion on Saturday. 64 student presenters from 37 counties, aged 13-19, participated in the event, held in Morrison Hall.

The competition was divided into 5 categories — illustrated talk, which involves a visual aid; demonstration, where a student uses props to demonstrate a process; speech, where an original or prepared speech is given; recitation of a published work; and dramatic interpretation, a category new this year. Each county had the opportunity to send 3 students in 3 separate categories, with the majority of students selecting illustrated talk and demonstration.

The public speaking portion of 4H is relatively new. “The bottom line,” said Dianne Walter, the New York State 4H Public Presentation Program Coordinator, “is that public speaking, no matter what career you go into, is an invaluable tool — it filters into all different areas of your life.”

4H originally started as a club for rural youths to share skills and learning, but has today evolved into a more comprehensive club, allowing students to pursue their interests in depth while developing social skills.

This event represents one of many efforts to bring 4H further into mainstream modern society. “What the 4 h’s in 4H signify has begun to change,” Tompkins County Program Leader JoAnne Baldini said. “Four terms — independence, mastery, belonging, and generosity — are really what I think 4H is all about. These words are based on the beliefs of the Lakota tribe, and when I first heard them i felt that they put words to what’s been going on all these years.”

“We’ve really been pushig to get people to understand 4H’s role in youth development,” Baldini continued. “In 4H, we believe that youth development is too important to leave to chance. In keeping with this, we provide intentional, meaningful opportunities for young people — we’re really teaching life skills.”

The competion is relatively new, and this year brought a few changes in the evaluation process. “The old evaluation had no yardstick for measuring talent — it was just one word choices, ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘poor’. But now we’ve changed to a numerical scoring system with a consultation evaluation, which allows the presenter to meet with their evaluators and hear their feedback on a one-on-one basis,” Walter explained.

The speech evaluators were all affiliated with the University, including professors, staff members, and students, many of whom are 4H alumni.

“We can develop a top-notch program, but if people don’t come out to evaluate, it won’t work,” said Walter. “The evaluators are the key piece of this puzzle — they really complete the program.”

“It was really good,” said student evaluator Laura Gorsky ’07. “I was a 4H-er many years ago, and I participated in these types of things, so it was really cool to be in a different seat and see how the kids were. All the presentations I saw were really great — I see a real future for these kids.”

Participants were also enthusiastic about the event. “It was really well-organized, and everything moved so smoothly,” said Julie Ltaif, from Fulton County, gold medalist in dramatic interpretation.

St. Lawrence County’s Ethan McCrea, who received the gold medal in demonstration, agreed. “I really enjoyed the experience,” he said. “It was well worth the time I put in — it’s just so rewarding.” McCrea, like many other participants, faced a long drive to reach the event. 

The local representatives from Tompkins County each received a medal — two golds and a bronze, in illustrated talk, speech, and recitation, respectively.

“Competition — that’s the piece that makes our kids want to come back,” said Walter. “It’s just like track or swimming, where you’re competing not only with others, but with yourself. Hopefully, they’ll really work on their weaker points and come back the next year even better.”

Archived article by Cory Brader