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Six Tips for Giving a Great Freshman Oration

Mission Principles: Compelling & Connected Academic Program, Community's Inclusivity and Diversity, Pursuit of the Balance of Rigor and Joy, Understanding of Social Justice and Global Systems
This month, our 9th graders achieved an important milestone in the Pacific Ridge upper school experience: Freshman Orations. We task our students with writing, refining, memorizing and delivering a five+-minute speech about a topic that is meaningful to them. We ask their audience, which ranges from a few grade levels to the whole upper school body, to listen fully and supportively to what these intelligent young people have to say. It is always a highlight of the year and, for many of our students, marks an important moment in their development of confidence, poise and authentic voice.

Public speaking is challenging - not just for 14 year olds. Helping students meet that challenge is intrinsic to the Freshman Orations process. We offer the same kinds of support, coaching and advice experts give adults who are preparing to speak publicly. Listed below are 6 tips we share, that you may find helpful the next time you give a speech!
  1. Talk about something you care deeply about. For our students, this can mean many things. Terrific orations in the past have covered topics as wide-ranging as heart transplants (given by a student whose sibling had received one) to the question of whether homework should exist (given by a student who would answer that question firmly in the negative!). Orations topics have often spurred volumes of thoughtful and spirited conversation across campus, and it is gratifying for our 9th graders to see that their voices matter to our whole community.
  2. Share yourself. One of the reasons TED talks are so popular is the way they draw the audience in with a mix of personal stories, facts and figures. We encourage students to share stories about themselves. Pacific Ridge is full of interesting people and Freshman Orations is a chance for the school to get to know them better.
  3. Be open to revision. Our students review their drafts repeatedly with peers and teachers, and often end up with a speech very different from (and superior to) their first effort.  Feedback is important. We ask them to be flexible, while still staying true to their own inspiration
  4. Edit, edit, edit. This is important in all writing, but especially when writing for oral presentations. Certain sentences, while easy to read, are not easy to speak aloud or don’t sound as impactful when verbalized. Thorough editing will make a presentation interesting, succinct and impactful. We encourage students to keep polishing until they end up with a gem.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. Most of us have, at some point, endured speakers who drone on, eyes glued to their written text. It is partly for this reason that final orations should be delivered without notes. Being fully present and engaging with an audience are essential to good public speaking. Tearing oneself away from that piece of paper isn’t hard, it just takes practice: practice in front of a mirror, practice in front of friends, practice in front of the family, practice in front of the household pets. Rehearsing and receiving encouragement will make a speaker more comfortable each time.
  6. Believe in yourself, breathe deep and have fun. We ask our students to remember that they are sharing something they care about with classmates, other students and teachers. And, most of us at Pacific Ridge have gone through the Orations experience ourselves. We want them to succeed, we’re ready to listen, and we will cheer them on, each step of the way!
This year’s crop of orations was impressive, showing how much each 9th grader put into the assignment. The finalists, who spoke in front of the school community today, wowed the audience with their thoughtful content and polished delivery. We congratulate the 9th-grade class on a successful orations season. Next year, they will once again be in the audience – appreciating the oratory all the more because they have experienced it themselves.
Some interesting Freshman Orations topics from the past few years:
Traumatic Brain Injury
The Importance of Quiet Time
The Healing Power of Laughter
The Importance of the Arts in School
Cultural Stereotypes
The Value of Independent Film
Little White Lies
Sticking to Your Own Moral Compass
Explicit Lyrics Aren’t Necessary
Abby Adams
Communications Manager