“Born a Crime,” an autobiography by comedian Trevor Noah, explores his coming-of-age in apartheid and postapartheid South Africa. “A Clockwork Orange,” is Anthony Burgess’s examination of a dystopian England through the eyes of Alex, a juvenile delinquent who is conditioned to abhor violence through behavior modification.
English 10 teacher Morgan Evans said Seth’s gift as an orator and his genuine love of “Born a Crime” were important advantages to his winning speech.
“His persuasive arguments often feel like engaging conversations, and his winning speech was no different,” Evans said. “He focused on two complex and interrelated ideas from Noah’s memoir—that we all need to be chameleons sometimes, changing ourselves to fit in with those around us, and that family is often the only community we can rely on when things are hard. Seth convincingly argued that these are relevant ideas for 10th graders at St. Andrew’s, and he did so without trivializing the trauma and difficulty of growing up in South Africa under apartheid.”
Seth chose “Born a Crime” because of Noah’s popularity as a comedian and host of “The Daily Show,” but his perspective and storytelling drew him in.
“If you’ve been in a St. Andrew’s history class before, you know our teachers emphasize the importance of knowing a country or its history first-hand. I needed to know more about how Trevor Noah’s life was in South Africa and during apartheid,” Seth said. “When I started to read it, it was amazing, I could not put the book down. It was amazing how he could make me smile at the end of the saddest moments.”
Oliver said he was fascinated by the argot that much of “A Clockwork Orange” was written in and how it immersed the reader in the world and mind of Alex.
“It provided an extremely unique perspective in the genre of dystopias,” Oliver said. “They’re usually written from the point of view of someone rising up against the regime. It was from the opposite point of view, of the person who was the problem. I haven’t ever encountered that sort of view before in a book, and I loved it so much.”
Honors English 10 teacher Andrew Seidman said Oliver's speech displayed his advanced skills both as a rhetorician and a deep critical thinker.
“He delivered his words with confidence, poise, and passion. At the same time, the content of his speech showed that he had clearly considered and explored the thematic elements of ‘A Clockwork Orange,’” Seidman said. “Many readers might have been so distracted by some of the darker elements of the novel, or too confused by the jargon and slang that Burgess employs, to get to those deeper ideas. Oliver, however, turned those elements into selling points and then, perhaps more importantly, pivoted into talking about the big questions.”
Other finalists that presented on Wednesday were Ansel Barnard (“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut), Simone Doumbouya-Foreman (“A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines) Hannah Newman (“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez), and Zorina Sun (“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng).
Seth and Oliver will also get to be judges next year when the Class of 2023 takes on the assignment. Previous winners that were judges this year were Olivia Tillman ’21 and Christian Alarie ’20.
Oliver and Seth agreed that they were looking forward to seeing how their peers would respond to the books.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how people react to Burgess’s style of writing,” Oliver said, recalling his classmates’ interest when he shared a passage from “A Clockwork Orange” largely written in argot. “Right then and there I know he had something really special in this language that doesn’t seem to make sense but is clear at the same time.”
“I’m looking forward to everyone’s reaction to the book, and if they start thinking about their own existence and how important their family and community is,” Seth said.