Declamation Celebration displays the power of words

Declamation Celebration displays the power of words

Thayer Academy Middle School held its 38th annual Declamation Celebration Wednesday afternoon (March 6) in the CFA’s Hale Theater, and the 16 finalists who took center stage proved once again why the public speaking event is such a beloved Middle School tradition. 

Izzy Berdik '28

Students each recited a roughly three-to-five minute passage of meaning to them and, whether it was a speech or a poem or an excerpt from a novel, used their considerable rhetorical skills to bring that passage to life. While only the Declamation Celebration finalists perform before the entire school, all Middle School students take part in Declamation, memorizing their selections and then performing them before their peers in English class. 

The words of several United States presidents were well represented at the celebration. Maddie Reinfurt ‘30 recited part of a 2009 Barack Obama address to schoolchildren in which the president extolled the virtues of failure when combined with persistence and hard work. 

“When you give up on yourself, you give up on your country,” Reinfurt, as Obama, said. 

Thomas Casal ‘29 chose the words of John F. Kennedy — specifically, the president’s 1961 inaugural address. 

“I do not shrink from this responsibility,” Casal, as JFK, said regarding the challenges of a new decade. “I welcome it.” 

Daniel Dowd ‘29 chose an excerpt from President Ronald Reagan’s national address following the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, a tragic day in which seven NASA crew members lost their lives. 

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted,” Dowd, as Reagan, said. “It belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.” 

In addition to presidents, there were poets. Liv Talabi-Oates ‘29 recited “Empty Cups,” a poem by Ciara Chantelle, with its message of mental self-care, healthy boundaries, and caring for one’s own peace of mind instead of letting it take a backseat to the needs of others. 

Deniz Unal '28

“Stop letting everyone into your space, giving them a place to lay their burdens,” Talabi-Oates, as Chantelle, said. “Your sanity is malnourished because you’re too busy serving sympathy to everyone else but your own psyche.” Later, the poet’s message is even more clear: “No excuse should excuse you from putting yourself first.” 

Henri Barbe ‘28 also chose to recite the words of a poet: an excerpt from Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” performed at President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. At one point Barbe, as Gorman, declaimed: “And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.” 

The Declamation Celebration also included, among others: the words of young environmental activists, their remarks separated by decades, sounding the alarm on climate change; a decorated general paying tribute to the ideals of “duty, honor, country”; a tech guru finding renewed passion after a very public failure; an Olympic champion with a painful but powerful truth to tell; a famous astronomer defining space exploration as a sacred human duty; and a collegiate athlete advocating for destigmatizing mental health issues. Two students, Izzy Berdik ‘28 and Deniz Unal ‘28, took a decidedly old-school approach to the day; Berdik recited an excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” while Unal recited John of Gaunt’s “This Sceptered Isle” speech from William Shakespeare’s Richard II

Middle School Director of Studies and English teacher Brian Cibelli, who oversees Declamation, thanked the entire Thayer community, especially the families of declaimers, for making such a day possible. 

The following are the day’s declaimers and the pieces that they chose to share: 

Henri Barbe '28

Ekaksha Joga ’31: An excerpt from Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s address to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992

Claire Kelly ’28: An excerpt from Victoria Garrick’s TED Talk, “Athletes and Mental Health: The Hidden Opponent”

Izzy Berdik ’28: An excerpt from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

Claire Walsh ’31: An excerpt from When you Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Amy Ma ’30: An excerpt from Greta Thunberg’s speech at the “Declaration of Rebellion” in London, 2018

Deniz Unal ’28: An excerpt from Richard II by William Shakespeare

Henri Barbe ’28: An excerpt from “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

Sloane Laur ’29: An excerpt from General Douglas MacArthur’s Thayer Award Acceptance Speech, 1962

Vanessa Horne ’29: An excerpt from Simone Biles’ Statement at Larry Nassar’s Trial, 2021

Maddie Reinfurt ’30: An excerpt from Barack Obama’s National Address to America's Schoolchildren, 2009

Liv Talabi-Oates ’29: "Empty Cups" by Ciara Chantelle

Thomas Casal ’29: An excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, 1961

Ollie Berdik ’28: An excerpt from Tshering Tobgay’s TED Talk, “This Country isn’t just Carbon Neutral – it’s Carbon Negative”

Teagan Brandt ’30: An excerpt from Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Address, 2005

Daniel Dowd ’29: An excerpt from Ronald Reagan's Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, 1986 

JJ Lynch ’28: An excerpt from Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan

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