Young Speakers Show Their Optimistic Side

The Optimist International Oratorical Contest showcased twelve Hartland Middle School students.

It was a night filled with stories about broken arms, horses, passing out, sports and bullying. The twelve students from who competed in this year’s Optimist International Oratorical Contest held at the middle school on Tuesday night showed their audience of judges and family members how they were able to remain positive and optimistic during such trials in their young lives.

The topic for this year’s annual event was “How my Optimism Helps me Overcome Obstacles.” It’s an interesting concept at any age, but the seventh and eighth grade students competing responded with humor and honesty while standing up in front of a room full of people and giving a speech.

“Their physical ability to get up in front of an audience I think is one of the most impressive things,” said Ore Creek Middle School social studies and public speaking teacher Gerald Bliznik.

Bliznik, who helped the students write and prepare for the competition, says that he gives advice to students on ways to best present their topic over a two-day instruction period.

“We have one day, its two days out of school, but one day where they write it with us,” Bliznik said. “And then the second day they’re on their own.”

The students pick their own topics, with guidance from Bliznik who encourages them to try and use humor if appropriate, but also warns that, “It better be good humor, or else it will flop." 

Some of the topics presented last night, however, were not of a humorous nature including one brave speaker who spoke of her father and grandmother’s battle with cancer and how using optimism has helped her to learn what she has that is worth fighting for.

Third place winner for the girls, Hannah Enderle, spoke of her battle with shyness and how her personal determination and optimism in herself proved that she now has the ability to stand up in front of a crowd and share her story.

“One day I realized enough is enough,” eighth grader Hannah said in her speech. “I was tired of what people thought of me. I tried to prove to them that I’m not the shy girl anymore.”

Other personal stories of being pushed into lockers, overcoming sports injuries and dealing with family changes were also spoken of and each speaker explained how using their optimism helped them through a tough phase.

"I think that optimism is more about feeling hopeful than happy," Abbey Johnson said in her speech.

Ricky Ascherl described how losing his grandfather was hard, but being optimistic is what his grandfather would have wanted.

"I had to realize that being optimistic would get me through this and help me live a great life," Ricky said. "Just like my grandpa would have wanted."

Michaela Conrad, who won first place for her speech about her love of horseback riding, will continue on with fellow first place winner for the boys, seventh grader, Andy Auvenshine whose speech focused on overcoming an obstacle at a baseball tournament.

"I just thought it was neat how each speaker talked about the peaks and valleys that they have through their lives," Steve Jacob, Optimist member and Branch Sales Manager of First National Bank in Hartland said. "It was just a great lesson in life. ... It just shows that you roll with the punches and look at the positives in each situation."

Andy and Michaela will next compete on April 21 at the Oakland ISD in Pontiac going up against other student speakers who won at the club level.

Jacob was unsure of how many students would be competing at the next level but said that depending on the district's decision, the winner could potentially win a grand prize of a $2,500 college scholarship.

The twelve finalists for Hartland Middle School included:

  • Andy Auvenshine
  • Sam Bedford
  • Ricky Ascherl
  • Brendan Dziobak
  • Abbey Johnson
  • Brooke Bliznik
  • Michaela Conrad
  • Hannah Enderle
  • Jenny Bauer
  • Brenna Rosso
  • Amy Parks
  • Katie Kolm

 The winners for the boys:

  1. Andy Auvenshine
  2. Sam Bedford
  3. Ricky Ascherl

 The winners for the girls:

  1. Michaela Conrad
  2. Abbey Johnson
  3. Hannah Enderle


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