OAKLAND -- Holy Names High School's speech team is new to competition, with the team and its adviser, Ann Marie Slevin, learning as they go. But it appears that their formula is right on the mark.
Five of the six-member team participating at a recent Golden Gate Association tournament came home with distinctions: one first place, one second, two thirds and a finalist.
All six students -- Maya Bello, Rachel Bonner, Munah Kaye, Alexandria Jasmine Perez, Jahslyn Whitelocke-Chensee and Cotys Winston-Sandefur -- made their mark among the 600 Bay Area participants and two of the young women, Kaye and Whitelocke-Chensee, qualified for the state competition in March. Coming from the Upper Rockridge school of 160 girls and a team of 10, the results are impressive.
"As a proportion of our student body and size of the team, how well they did is very surprising, especially since we're all new," Slevin said.
When the team first formed in December 2011, many members didn't know that speech meant a series of events done as an individual in a variety of categories, including oratory, original, dramatic interpretation, humorous interpretation, improv, prose, poetry and duo.
Slevin, an English teacher and speech and debate adviser, meets with the speech team during study hall on Thursdays or after school, whenever the girls can fit in this extracurricular activity. Though she helps them with presentation tips and speech selection, the students do most of the work on their own.
Not surprisingly, selection is the most critical part, and Slevin was proud of the team's choices this year. Once chosen, each speech must be edited down to 10 minutes and memorized. Senior Whitelocke-Chensee, who placed third in varsity oratorical interpretation with "A Left-Handed Commencement Address" by Ursula LeGuin, knew when she had found her speech.
"LeGuin's just stood out because it was so eloquent and poetic and was addressing women specifically," she said. "I really felt passionate about the speech, so it helped me execute it well."
Maya Bello, a junior, knew she had a challenge ahead of her when she chose Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" but decided to give it her best. Walking away with first place in novice oratorical interpretation testifies that she did. She underlined important parts that stood out to her and walked around during competition looking people in the eye.
"I closed my eyes before I started to pretend that it was 1963 and there were millions of people in the crowd," Bello said. "That's how I did well."
This first year of competition provided valuable lessons for team members. Bello learned that a speech requires more than memorization.
"You have to think about the meaning you want to portray to your audience," Bello said. "You have to put your soul into it."
Winston-Sandefur, a junior, a finalist in novice dramatic interpretation, took home insight into the game of competition.
"I learned something so important it just blew my mind," she said. "When you get the best people in your category and you place, then you know you're one of the best people."
Already proud to be students at Holy Names, this year has brought forth the importance of what they are gaining as part of a small, all-girls high school. Kaye, a senior who placed second in varsity oratorical, has come to respect the role of character during and after competition and credits her school with paving the way to success.
"I've learned how amazing Holy Names girls are because there's such a drive to be successful," she said. "It's because we go to Holy Names and know that women can do anything; there's nothing stopping us."
Fellow senior Whitelocke-Chensee agrees.
"Our school really takes pride in building proud young women who can hold themselves and present themselves," she said.
Slevin is proud of her team and looks forward to March's state competition but still remains pleasantly surprised at how well her team performed.
"I'm so proud of the way they're always so positive toward each other and other competitors," Slevin said. "We kind of came out of nowhere, but other schools are now taking notice."