to see video clips from the speeches.
“Everything Here is Beautiful,” written by Mira T. Lee and published earlier this year, deals with themes of mental health and immigration as it tells the story of two Chinese-American sisters. “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” an Oscar Wilde classic originally published in 1890, deals with duplicity and aestheticism as it tells the story of a man who sells his soul so that his portrait will age, rather himself.
“This important capstone project continues to be one of the high points of our academic year as 10th grade English instructors,” said Andrew Seidman, who teaches the English 10 Honors classes. “Parker's delivery demonstrated their mastery of both verbal and nonverbal rhetoric. They imbued their speech with pathos without crossing the line into the theatrical or artificial. Parker displayed a genuine love for this work, especially its messages regarding the heavy price we pay for secret shame and the way that very few of us are who we actually seem to be. Moreover, Parker’s closing argument, that great literature isn't always understood best in an author's lifetime, was a powerful conclusion to an extremely persuasive speech.”
Parker, who performs in St. Andrew’s plays and musicals, said their theater background made a difference when giving the speech.
“I separated it into beats and marked levels, underlying thoughts, tone, and objective,” Parker said. “I treated it exactly like a monologue because I’ve never given a speech before – I did what I knew.”
Olivia said she chose her book because she was inspired by its themes of immigration and mental illness. She said she appreciated the project, which included an essay, visual presentation, and speech, because she could approach it from her personal experience and perspective.
“I got to talk about what I liked about the book,” she said. “It’s easier to talk about it coming from the mind of a 10th grader. It’s much easier to pour out everything in your mind that you liked and think your friends will like.”
“Olivia's speech about Mira T. Lee's ‘Everything Here is Beautiful’ highlighted her sophisticated writing as well as her ability to articulate why the book is relevant to our world,” said Morgan Evans, who teaches English 10 classes. “Specifically, Olivia made powerful connections between the novel and current immigration discussions, and her dramatic descriptions of Schizophrenia helped her to emphasize Lee's complex message about mental illness: there are no easy answers and we should expand our circle of empathy for both the mentally ill and those who love them.”
Other finalists that presented on Wednesday were Zara Blake (“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen), Jonathan Schwartz (“Columbine” by Dave Cullen), Annie Li (“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne), and Alex Pardo (“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov).
Olivia and Parker will also get to be judges next year when the Class of 2022 takes on the assignment. Previous winners that were judges this year were Christian Alarie ’20, Annie Seymour ’20, Nicole Daoust ’19, and Cameron Reeder ’19.
Both winners said they are looking forward to the discussions and debates among their classmates when their books are read later this year.
“I want my friends in the 10th grade to learn what it may be like to be schizophrenic,” Olivia said. “The undocumented immigrant part is so interesting and controversial, and I want to have those discussions.”
“I want to help teach the book,” Parker said. “I really like having in-depth conversations about books, especially about characters, and go above the surface level.”