Two St. John’s Ravenscourt students are headed to South Africa after a superlative showing at the annual National Public Speaking Championships, held at SJR on Feb. 11.
Ryan Sherbo, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student ,won both the overall national championships and the persuasive speaking and impromptu speaking events, according to an SJR press release; 15 year-old Peirce Dickson (Grade 10) placed fourth overall.
As a result, the two will now compete at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships, taking place March 23-April 5 in Durban, South Africa.
This was Sherbo’s third year at the Nationals; he’s been competing in public speaking and debate since Grade 7. "This is the five-year payoff, I guess," he laughs.
Dickson, who professed surprise at placing so well at the nationals, says he feels lucky to have performed so well among older students.
This will also be Sherbo’s second trip to the worlds — he placed 11th last spring in Brisbane, Australia; another SJR student, Ryan Pistorius, won first overall and took second in interpretive reading.
That victory marked the 14th time an SJR student has taken top spot at the Worlds in the last 25 years — a record unmatched by any school in the world.
"It feels fantastic — it’s incredibly rewarding," says Sherbo of his victory, adding that he loves "getting up and delivering" after countless hours of refining his logic, language and delivery in preparation.
"It’s definitely a challenge," Dickson says, in terms of the work that’s required. "And it’s a good skill to learn, period."
Sherbo, who spoke on climate change — playing a bit of devil’s advocate for the cause of geo-engineering solutions –—also emphasizes how great it feels to have one’s voice heard as a young person: "That’s a major draw for me."
Both students credit the coaching efforts of SJR’s John Robinson, who teaches Grade 7-12 debating and public speaking as well as Grade 12 economics.
"The school’s very supportive," says Robinson, who’s been teaching at the school for 30 years now. Debate and public speaking is a mandatory course in Grades 6 and 7, after which it becomes an elective; students do public speaking even as early as Grade 1, however, as part of their English classes.
"Most of our communication is oral, not written, after all," points out Robinson, who is the Canadian national coordinator for the national and world championships. "The students are learning to speak and express themselves without barriers.
"And it develops critical thinking skills in the process, and encourages respect for differing positions"
For Sherbo, it’s also a chance to add another entry to the list of destinations public speaking has already taken him: he’s also been to California and the Czech Republic.
"That’s been another rewarding aspect," he smiles.
This will be Dickson’s first time overseas.