Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Up Against Leukemia and Dementia

In the Ageo-city speech contest a couple of weeks ago which my student dominated, the race was only close due to the ability of some speeches to tug mercilessly at the heart strings of the judges. One girl in the previous contest spoke about how she never met her father. Another chose to recite the depressing tale of the elephants killed in Tokyo during the war. 

I knew that my student and I would be facing tough competition at today's prefectural speech contest, the next stage en route to the national speech contest, but I had no idea just what we were in for. As my eyes scanned the list of the titles of the other students' speeches, they stopped cold in their tracks when they beheld the one called "My Sister's Message." I flipped quickly to it, and instantly felt nerves wash over me. Crap. It was about how the speaker's little sister DIED of Leukemia and how her new goal in life is to convince others about the importance of organ donation because through it, her baby sister can now live on in someone else. I felt crushed. Were there any other super emotional speeches that judges would look like completely heartless jerks for not giving the top score Of course there were. In addition to a baby girl dying of Leukemia, there was a speech about a girl's grandmother and her increasingly crippling dementia The first two lines were as follows: 

Hi, Grandma, how are you? Are you all right? 
Yes, I'm fine. But, who are you?

After that introduction alone, I knew there would not be a dry eye in the auditorium. My student asked me if I was nervous about any speeches, so I expressed my concern. Her expression turned to worry. "But, I have not had any experiences like that, so how could I have written about one?" she inquired. I told her that she was lucky that she could not write with honesty about such things and reminded her how amazing her speech was anyways. I am getting good at my speech contest pep talks. 



Thankfully, due to the large amount of students in the contest, the speakers were split up into two groups containing 22 students. There was only one speech I was a bit disappointed I didn't get to hear because the speaker wasn't in my group. The speech was about how the boy hated his father and chose the speech contest as an outlet for him to finally express those sentiments. He wrote in the speech that he invited his father just to inform him of his hatred. Honestly, I couldn't tell if it was a joke, but if it wasn't, that would make for some good, Japanese soap opera-esque drama. 

After each successive speaker, I felt more and more at ease. The content of their speeches may have been good, sure, but their pronunciation didn't even come close to the native perfection of my student's. There were a couple of kids whose speeches made me a bit worried. However, I was far from surprised when my student made the finals. I might add, by the way, that the judges ended up looking like completely heartless jerks since the girl whose sister died of Leukemia didn't make the final round. 



Before I recount the nerve-racking final round, I want to discuss how sick I am of the stupid song "Let It Go" from Frozen. It is such an obsession here that MULTIPLE students wrote about it in their speeches. One student actually wrote her entire speech about the song, and broke up her own text with lines from the song. It made me cringe. Two students related their own lives to Frozen, like the woman who tried to sue Disney claiming it stole her life story. One girl said she cried when she first saw the film because it reminded her so much of her past. I guess she is struggling to suppress the power to freeze things with her emotions.



So, the final eight students began reading, and boy, they were amazing. Their topics were well thought-out, the grammar in the speeches was flawless, and some of them had near-native pronunciation. I was biting my nails so hard and sweating buckets when the results were read from last place to first. I didn't care what place she got as long as it was first, second or third because all three get to move on to the next round. After the fourth place student was read and my student still hadn't been called, I began to hoot and hollar like an obnoxious parent at a little league baseball game. 


Of course, she was upset that she didn't get first place, because she is Japanese. But I was ecstatic and beaming, and can't wait to start preparing for the next contest!

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