Surviving the Sophomore Speech
By James Hunter
At Novato High School, sophomore speeches are a point of stress for some, yet an avenue for self expression for others. The sophomore speech has been done by every sophomore for more than 35 years at Novato High School. Students are encouraged to research and speak about controversial topics and many do just that.
Sophomore Cassidy Newman described the stress behind the speeches.
“I think that it is definitely an unnecessary point of stress, especially because lots of students have social anxiety and do not feel comfortable speaking in public,” Newman said. “It is also worth 500 points to our grade, so we shouldn’t get docked down points if we can’t speak well to an audience, since it is not our fault.”
The fear of public speaking is a very common issue with students at Novato High and around the country. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, public speaking is rated as the number one fear in the United States, with 74% of the population suffering from some sort of speech anxiety. According to glossophobia.com, a speaker tends to freeze up in front of any audience. Also, a speaker may experience other symptoms like forgetfulness, a dry mouth, a weak voice, and a shaking body.
This fear and its symptoms can make it extremely hard to deliver a good speech, even if it is in front of a small class. This can cause issues, as students are being graded heavily on something that they may not have much control over. This fear can increase with each round of the competition, as the speaker presents the speech in front of more and more people. Since the actual act of speaking is such a big part of giving a speech, many students have had to overcome their fear to get a good grade on the speech.
Joanie Leith, an English teacher and a huge part of the sophomore speech project, explained how students are graded.
“A large percentage of the grade for the actual speech depends on the student's speaking ability. If the student follows the guidelines for presenting a successful speech, they will most likely see a grade that they are happy with,” Leith said. “Teachers and peers will grade each speech with a speaking rubric so that the student speaker knows how he or she will be graded before presenting the actual speech. Practicing your speech and not simply reading it off of cards should ensure a good grade.”
Another big aspect of sophomore speeches are the many different topics, which reflect a diverse population at Novato High. Students are encouraged to speak about what compels them, what interests them, and what they want to change. This leads to an extremely wide range of topics. They include hot political debates, such as gun control and smaller issues like video games, entertainment, and smartphone use.
“I think that teachers appreciate topics that span a global scale, a problem that is beyond just our lives here in our Novato High community,” Leith said. “It is interesting to hear a topic that the audience doesn't already know about so that we are learning from each student's speech.”
Maddie Mock, a sophomore at Novato High, is writing about a topic that interests her.
“I do not think that public companies should refuse customers because of ethnicity or religious beliefs,” Mock said. “I chose this topic because many religions around the US are being refused because of what they believe in and that is wrong.”
This topic is just one of hundreds of unique topics that students are writing about this year.
Another sophomore, Ale Lopez, is speaking about a hot political topic on the minds of many Americans.
“I am writing about US relations with North Korea,” Lopez said. “The reason I chose it was because the politics between the two nations are really heating up.”
The final grade on the sophomore speech is worth 500 points, which is more than double the final in some classes. Also, there are multiple 25, 50 and 100 point assignments given for research and check-ins. This makes the sophomore speech the biggest assignment of the year by far, and sophomores have to work extremely hard to get it done on time and meet deadlines.
In addition to speaking just in front of a class for an individual grade, some of the best speeches are selected to move to the semifinals, which takes place in the gym. After that, finalists are chosen and those finalists speak in front of the entire sophomore class. The finalists are voted on by judges and the winner receives extra credit on their speech.
Although many students dread it, the sophomore speech is an important part of the year for sophomores and it benefits students in many different ways.