Through speech, teens share pieces of themselves

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On Monday, March 27, Ayla Boylen (left), Walter Stavroplus and Anjela Waterman will join talented teens from across the state at the All State Speech Festival. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

On Monday, March 27, three local teens will join talented students from across the state at the University of Northern Iowa, for the All State Speech Festival. 

Ayla Boylen, Anjela Waterman and Walter Stavroplus were nominated for the prestigious event after earning straight ones at the State Individual Speech Contest at Waldorf College on March 11.

Only a fraction of participants are nominated to All State. 

“You know you have to be good, but you don’t know how good,” remarked speech coach Angie Killian. “They are so talented, but you just never know what the other competition and talent will be.”

Stavroplus was recognized for his solo musical theater performance, while Boylen stunned judges with an original poem. Waterman was honored in two categories: poetry and after dinner speaking. 

The accomplishment is not lost on them.

“I was shocked because there’s so much talent,” Stavroplus admitted. “It’s great to know that hard work can turn into something huge.”

“I’ve never been nominated before this year, so when both were nominated, I thought, “Are you kidding?” Waterman commented. “It shows that the hours of hard work paid off. People don’t understand how much work you put into speech.”

Killian said she and assistant speech coach Diane Fisk are proud of the kids and have enjoyed watching them share their talents.

“No matter how much a student prepares for speech contest, it’s still a live performance and anything could happen,” she said. “My goal with each student is to develop confidence in themselves and their speaking abilities so they can effectively convey a message to an audience.”

“I always tell kids, it’s not about the speaker,” Killian added. “It’s about the message they deliver.” 

For these teens, that delivery conveys not just a message—but a piece of themselves.

Stavroplus’ piece, taken from the musical “Whoop-Dee-Doo,” describes a man named Alan who is picked last for everything. As the song progresses, shared Stavroplus, listeners learn that, although Alan struggles with sports, he can beat anyone at Scrabble.

“It’s a fun piece,” he said. “It was a song I thought a lot of people could relate to—at least I could.”

Waterman admitted she took a risk with each of her pieces.

“They were both actually original pieces,” she noted. “I knew the judges wouldn’t hear anything like it.”

After dinner speaking pieces are meant to entertain audiences, often through humor. Waterman said she changed up the approach a bit, making her piece informational and a little inspirational, as well. Playing on the event name, her creative speech expressed how desserts correlate to different stages of life.

Waterman said she appreciated being able to connect with the audience through humor, which was a considerably different track than her poetry performance.

“My step dad passed away last April,” Waterman revealed. Over time, she wrote pieces of poetry about it and combined them into a poem Boylen termed both musical and rhythmic.

“She’s a songwriter,” Boylen said of Waterman, “so it’s lyrical.” 

The effect, Waterman explained, was a cathartic experience.

“It was nice to share for poetry because I didn’t really talk to anyone about it,” she said. “By writing and performing, I got to talk about it.”

Boylen said she felt similarly about her poem “Did You Know,” an original work she penned about her younger brother’s struggles with the side effects of medication used to treat ADHD.

“The poem is so personal and raw,” she confided. “It’s about this bond my brother and I had in this s**tstorm of everything that was going on.”

Having written the poem herself, Boylen said she didn’t need to practice it. The emotion was already so vivid—so much so that it was exhausting.

Boylen said she never shared the poem with her brother, Samson, who passed away in November 2015, following an adverse reaction to chemotherapy used to treat leukemia. If he was still here, she conceded, she probably wouldn’t have performed it.

But now, she said, it is a token of gratitude, emotion on paper.

“I don’t talk about myself much. I’ve always been very guarded,” she stated. “It’s hard to make myself vulnerable to people.”

“Did You Know,” which Boylen said could be considered slam poetry, resonated with many of those who saw her perform. Boylen said one girl in particular, whom she’d never met, specifically sought her out, just to express how much hearing the poem had meant to her.

“I never felt I could connect with someone like that,” Boylen shared. “The amount of people moved by it made it worth that vulnerability.”

“I was happy with how I performed it,” she remarked of the poem, adding, “I was really happy Anjela was here with me. Hers was just as moving and emotional.”

Boylen, Waterman and Stavroplus said speech has helped them all become more willing to not only share with others, but also to listen.

“Speech has been confidence boosting,” Stavroplus commented. “My piece was funny, so it felt good to make people smile and laugh.”

In speech, Boylen said, those in the audience are willing to listen and understand.

“People let you in,” Waterman commented. 

“People want to hear what you have to say. You matter. It’s like going to therapy,” Boylen said. “It also reminds me to listen to other people.”

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