Osage Trail Middle School eighth-grader Breahna Schulenberg gets irked when someone whips out a smartphone and start using it in the middle of a conversation.
If you ask her, most people are addicted to technology, and that’s just one example.
“I will be talking to someone and they will be on their phone,” she said. “Then I say, ‘Did you even hear me?’”
That’s what she decided to make her speech about when she and classmate Charlie Alt traveled to Washington, D.C., to give their speeches at the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theatre on May 6.
English teacher Melissa Woodward was a part of the National Oratory Fellows program, which promotes and helps cultivate the voices of fifth through eighth graders by making public speaking a part of their everyday classroom experience.
Osage Trail is in the Fort Osage School District. Woodward had to choose two students to go with her to Washington. Out of 80 who were interested, she narrowed it down to 28 before she picked Alt and Schulenberg based on the quality of their speeches, the strength of the topic and presentations in class.
“They spent countless lunch hours and went through many drafts to get there they are,” Woodward said.
They had to include a topic that they are passionate about and they had to have a opinion about it and be persuasive with their stance. Both of them were a part of a group of students from all over the United States who gave speeches that day.
“There are thousands of people walking by while they give their speech,” Woodward said. “Both of them were one of the first to speak.
Alt and Schulenberg had to work past some nerves at first as it was their first time in Washington.
“I got to experience something that not many people get to,” Schulenberg said. “I got to give a speech at the same place that Abraham Lincoln got shot.
“My heart started racing and I thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ I get up there and I look out and think, ‘OK. I can do this. And my legs were shaking the entire time I was giving my speech. My heart slowed down but not much.”
Alt had similar feelings.
“Before I went up there, I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, I am going to mess up. I am going to mess up. I was really nervous. But I was excited, too, because I get to speak about something I care about in front of a lot of people.
And she got to give her stance on technology. She argued that people can have fun without the use of a phone, television or computer.
“My family likes to play Spanish dominos,” said Schulenberg, who noted that she doesn’t watch TV much. “I wanted to encourage people to put their phones sometimes. I often color in my free time with adult coloring books. It takes time to do those.”
“If I am with my family and we are actually have conversations, I will make eye contact with them. I can’t just look at my phone.”
Added Woodward: “The point of her speech was how close her family is because they spend time together and not on their phones. Her point was that technology prevents people her age from spending quality time with others”
Alt’s speech was about adoption. He adopted through foster care when he was just 1½ years old. He started out with humor before getting serious and emotional with his presentation. He was aiming to convince those who wanted to adopt a child to go out and do so.
“When I get into the serious stuff, they realized that it was not all just a joke,” Alt said.
He talked about his experience about being a foster child and how being adopted saved his life. He then cited some alarming statistics for foster children to support his point.
“This was a personal speech for me,” Alt said. “Two-thirds of kids who age out of the foster-care system end up homeless or in prison.”
Woodward admired Alt and Schulenberg for what they were able to do.
“I am really proud of the kids,” Woodward said. “To stand up and give that speech at the Lincoln Memorial, in front of thousands of people, I would have been terrified myself.”