MSD middle-schoolers share their voice in Optimist speech contest

The 8th grade winners of the Optimist Club's Oratorical Contest at MSD pose with their medals after giving speeches on "why their voice is important" Wednesday. From left: Elizabeth Harrison, first place; Tyra Rogers, second place; Cheyenne Dickerson, third place; Pat Brauner.

The 8th grade winners of the Optimist Club's Oratorical Contest at MSD pose with their medals after giving speeches on "why their voice is important" Wednesday. From left: Elizabeth Harrison, first place; Tyra Rogers, second place; Cheyenne Dickerson, third place; Pat Brauner. Photo by Dean Asher.

Seventeen Missouri School for the Deaf middle school students proved you don’t have to use your mouth to use your voice Wednesday.

The sixth through eighth graders presented speeches they’d spent months preparing during the Optimist Club’s annual Oratorical Contest in Ingle Auditorium, where the topic was “Why My Voice Is Important.”

Though her students weren’t giving their speeches with what hearing people would traditionally consider a “voice,” MSD teacher and competition co-chairperson Jennifer Dignan realized that the prompt set by Optimist Club International was perfect.

“When I first got the title, I had to read it again and look at it,” said Dignan, who chairs the contest alongside Debbie Burnaman. “We do have a voice, but it’s a different kind, so I had to make sure my students understood.

“When I first told them, they said ‘my voice? That doesn’t apply to us,’ but I explained it’s how you express your thoughts, your feelings and make yourself heard, and they all really got that.”

The 17 middle schoolers worked on making their voices heard since January before giving their final speech to a panel of three American Sign Language-fluent judges in the school’s auditorium. Some students said that though they couldn’t do so with spoken words, they could still stand up for neglected or abused animals. Others wanted to use sign language to celebrate deaf culture and history amongst their peers, while one student called for deaf and hearing students to take classes together so they could better understand and learn to communicate with one another.

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