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Martina Santos 26 (left) hosts Nieves Gomez as an exchange student from Madrid.
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May 27, 2024

Remember the squids: rethinking oratories

Alexa Diaz
Nina Heffron ’27 argues that oratories make some students feel ridiculous, like colossal squids.

Your legs shake as you stand in your penny loafers, frozen in front of the class. It seems that all the time and effort you put into preparing for your oratory simply never happened. Poof! Your words leave you, and all you are left with are your cold, clammy hands and a mind full of doubts. Your eyes bulge out of your head in fear; you must look like a colossal squid. You feel paralyzed. Nothing is functioning in your body except your rapidly-beating heart and frantic mind. Instead of focusing on recalling your passage, you are flooded with thoughts of failure, your anxiety, and your fear of looking stupid. 

Of course you know these are the wrong things to think about, yet these feelings and thoughts consume you. It feels hopeless. At that moment, you want to be an ostrich and stick your head in the floor, disappearing. You wish none of this were happening. You start spiraling and questioning everything that you have ever done. 

You know that you are blowing things way out of proportion, but still, what really is the point of oratories anyway? Why do teachers make you agonize over this daunting task? Why do they force you to memorize three to five minutes of a passage from a novel and recite it to your classmates?

Believe it or not, some teachers think that there are benefits to delivering oratories. They say that we do not usually speak in long complex sentences, so memorizing and speaking passages from a book will increase our appreciation for rich, beautiful language. 

“If the students can say the sentence in a way that transmits the meaning, then they will really appreciate in a new way how sentences are put together and the coherent structure of an elegant literary sentence,” said Mr. Alkon, ninth grade English teacher. 

Some also argue that oratories could improve public speaking skills. It is true that they can prepare you for future life experiences, where you will have to speak in front of your peers, but some students think that oratories are not worth the benefits. And, after all, when you deliver a speech, you do not usually have to have your entire speech memorized word for word. 

 “Although the oratory helps with speaking, I feel like it puts a lot of pressure on students. Three and a half minutes of talking to the entire class can be stressful, especially if you have trouble memorizing,” said Ivanka Brutus ‘27. 

And, unlike a written test, where you are graded only on academic performance, for oratories teachers grade you on things like “facial expression,” “poise,” and “body motion,” so if you so much as fidget or twitch, get ready to lose points. 

This does not seem fair for students who deal with severe anxiety. Some students cannot simply push anxiety away or ignore it; for them, anxiety is more than just stomach jitters.

“For me, it’s not like a mental response; it’s a physical response. It’s not just thinking, ‘I’ll do bad’–it’s feeling like I’m dying. It’s a fight or flight response, like a carnivorous animal at the zoo is coming after me,” said Andrea Lara ‘26. “It’s not something that’s easy to reason your way out of.”

Fortunately, teachers are aware of these issues.

“I try to be sympathetic because I understand that it is anxiety provoking,” said Mr. Alkon. “It is useful to remember that the whole thing is hard for everybody, and it’s good when everyone can remember that it is an obstacle that they have to go through and surpass together.” So you can help your classmates who are stressed about their oratories by being supportive and empathetic.

Also, even though delivering an oratory can be stressful, a significant amount of this stress could be alleviated if you practiced good time management. When you are stressed about things like memorization and delivery, it is helpful to think about what you can control and how you are going to control it. For example, you can control how often you practice and how well you have your passage memorized. 

Though it might seem crazy or insensitive for me to want to keep oratories, I think they should stay, but with some modifications. Just the fact they are something that most of us do not want to do makes them helpful. There are going to be things in the future that we will not want to do; they might involve public speaking too. Persevering through situations like the oratory assignment is a lesson we need to learn to apply in the future. 

In addition to making us face unpleasant situations, the oratory’s memorization factor fosters critical thinking skills and promotes brain plasticity. 

In fact, according to psychologists,Students who’ve memorized definitions, functions, equations, and other information can free up more brain capacity to use in other areas. If one has grasped all foundational concepts, one can move on to bigger concepts.” 

However, I do think changes could be made. We would still benefit from memorization and public speaking benefits if we were allowed to recite poems or shorter passages. Poems could be more enjoyable and resonate longer and more deeply with us as well. It’s true that they do not have the same grammatical structure as prose, but if gaining a deeper appreciation for complex sentences is important, then the required passage length could still be shortened.

One reason shorter passages could be helpful is that we spend many hours working on memorizing our oratories that could be used for other activities. For example, in freshmen classes during the weeks before oratory, students often participate less because we are too distracted by wanting to work on memorizing. In fact, some of us spend over seven hours preparing to recite our passages. 

Even with these modifications, anxiety still is an important factor to consider when determining whether oratories are worth it for some students. Maybe, oratories should not be required for everyone. If this idea were adopted, only the people who wanted to participate in the competition would have to recite their oratories. 

“I don’t feel like oratories should be taken all the way out, but I feel like it should be made for students who want to participate in it and feel comfortable participating in oratories,” said Dakaraia Meeks ‘27.

It is true that not everyone looks like a colossal squid when delivering their oratory; some manage to recite their passages beautifully, like swans, maybe, so it will be difficult to find a single solution that benefits everyone. Even so, let’s think about creative ways to make this tradition as beneficial as possible. And, as we do so, let’s not forget about the squids.

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About the Contributors
Nina Heffron
Nina Heffron, Staff Writer
Nina Heffron is a freshman at Carrollton. This is her first year writing for The Beat. While being a member of the basketball team, she also loves to paint in her free time.
Alexa Diaz
Alex loves to design graphics and wants to create a visual for the stories that her classmates write.

Comments (4)

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  • M

    Mr. AlkonMar 18, 2024 at 3:33 pm

    I love this article! The descriptions of the oratory experience and the accompanying graphic are fantastic. I really appreciate the thoughtful exploration of all sides of the issue. I think the criticisms and concerns raised about the oratory assignment are all reasonable, weighty, and persuasively presented — by the author and by the interviewees. Thank you!

  • C

    Clarissa CruzMar 15, 2024 at 10:48 pm

    What a wonderful piece! Nina is a thoughtful and engaging writer.

  • D

    DeniseMar 15, 2024 at 1:29 pm

    Great article with attention to all sides of the debate.

  • S

    Sofia BarreraMar 15, 2024 at 9:57 am

    Excellent writing! I loved editing this piece.