Thayer seniors present ‘Words That Changed The World’
Five senior finalists rocked the rafters of Hale Theater Friday morning during a “Words That Changed The World” (WTCTW) competition where excellence was the rule and not the exception.
In the end, however, Tatiana Allen ‘23 earned the title of WTCTW champion. Her performance of “Principles,” a poem by Danez Smith, proved flawless in execution, pitch-perfect in tone, and undeniably courageous in message.
“I want justice the verb, not justice the dream,” said Allen, reciting a poem which focuses on what “America” means for a person of color and directly challenges some bedrock assumptions the United States has on the issue of race. “I want what was promised to me.” The senior earned a standing ovation for her efforts.
Allen’s winning performance was made all the more impressive by the level of oratorical skill she had to best that morning. Selecting passages of import to them and employing the various rhetorical tools at their disposal — from logic to passion to humor to body movement to dramatic pauses — the day’s four other finalists each won over the crowd in their own way.
Having the unenviable task of going first, Eliza Farley ‘23 chose Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s “How Dare You?” address at the United Nations during the 2019 Climate Action Summit.
“You are failing us,” Farley, as Thunberg, told the audience, referring to society’s tepid response to the existential threat of climate change. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”
Toni Ierardi ‘23 chose “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much,” a 2014 TED Talk by Australian comedian, activist, and writer Stella Young. As Young, Ierardi pointed out how society objectifies people with disabilities as a form of stock motivational tool.
“Disability doesn’t make you exceptional,” she said, “but questioning what you think you know about it does.”
For his performance piece, Owen Sharpe ‘23 selected the words of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who in 2014 accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at that year’s ESPYs.
“I’m not special,” Sharpe, as Scott, told the audience in remarks dealing with Scott’s battle with cancer as well as the power of hope and community. “I just listen to what the man said” — that man being Jim Valvano, the late NC State basketball coach whose words “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” have become an iconic message of hope.
Clarice Daly ‘23 chose the words of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D - NY), who in July of 2020 took to the House floor to defend herself after a verbal attack by a fellow congressman and to shine a spotlight on the dangers of misogynistic language throughout society.
“And so, what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent,” said Daly, as Ocasio-Cortez. “Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.”
After all presenters had finished, audience members voted via their phones. Max Hughes ‘23 and Marguerite Greene ‘23, who served as emcees for this third annual event, announced the results.
The “Words that Changed the World” competition represents the senior component of Thayer’s commitment to leadership communication and public speaking across all grade levels. The sequenced array of curricular opportunities, which begins with the Declamation Celebration at the Middle School, develops not only effective public presentation skills but highlights the art of storytelling, the value of connecting with multiple audiences, and the importance of articulating ideas in impactful ways.