Kayla Peters received a national stage to speak about an issue close to her heart.
The Grade 11 Miles Macdonell Collegiate student spoke about the issue of forced marriages in French, one of her additional languages.
For finishing second in the basic French category at the Concours d’art oratoire, Peters received a scholarship to the University of Ottawa worth $28,000. The competition, which was held in Charlottetown, P.E.I. on May 24, is sponsored by Canadian Parents for French.
Peters noted while she has grown up performing onstage, the competition — which starts at the classroom level and progresses to school, division, and provincial levels — is the first time she has done public speaking at a competitive level.
Peters said while she had studied French since elementary school, it was only when she entered Miles Mac for Grade 10 that she began to move beyond the basic words and phrases of the language like the alphabet, numbers, and colours. Taking the international baccalaureate program, within two years she was up to the task of speaking on a heavy topic even with only an hour of French instruction per day.
Peters, describing herself as a major proponent of human and women’s rights, stressed the point women should be able to defy cultural and religious expectations to marry a partner of their choosing.
"It was interesting, because I’ve never really spoken about it in that way in English," the 16-year-old East Kildonan resident explained. "The way that we were told to write the speeches was to look at it from a global perspective, not just a Canadian perspective, so I got to see especially the French aspect of it, how forced marriage affects people in France.
"You don’t hear about it very much, but it is something that affects so many different people."
While the eventual first-place finisher wrote a speech about love, Peters’ teacher, Lisa Bailey, said she encourages her students to tackle serious topics like Peters did.
"I try to encourage a little more of the controversial things, because it’s also part of the IB curriculum," Bailey explained. "That can sometimes work against you — especially a topic like (Peters’)."
Bailey explained the grading system included the speech’s content, the student’s ability to memorize it, and language basics like pronunciation and style.
Peters is also taking Spanish and Japanese at the international baccalaureate level, and is striving to attain her world languages credit before graduation. She hopes to eventually work as an interpreter for either the government or the United Nations.