Standing near a large portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the stage at the Hylton Memorial Chapel Monday, six area middle and high school students gave speeches inspired by King’s words.
The theme for this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Oratorical Contest, sponsored by the Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., was “The time is always right to do what is right,” a quotation taken from King’s 1965 commencement address at Oberlin College.
In their speeches, student speakers touched on topics including the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, bullying, Hurricane Sandy, homelessness and gay marriage, while stressing the importance of doing the right thing.
Osbourn Park High School senior Abbas Idris told the story of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped when she was 11 years old and was held captive for 18 years.
The person who led police to Dugard’s captor did the right thing, Idris said, and he urged others to do the right thing in their lives.
“There is an awesomeness in human nature that allows us to do the right thing,” he said at the start of his speech.
Cynthia Johnson, a 10th grade student at Stonewall Jackson High School, spoke about a 17-year-old boy who raised money to help the homeless in his community and about a 12-year-old girl who raised money to build houses in Haiti.
“Don’t sleep, dream, because there is no day but today,” she said.
In his speech, Jacob Gonzalez, a ninth grader at Thomas Jefferson High School, spoke about the need for greater gun control in the light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“What is more right than stopping the violence, stopping the horror that permeates society?” he asked.
Norman Jones, an 8th grade student at Stonewall Middle School, spoke about doing the right thing in the face of bullying.
“We have to do what we know is right and make a difference,” he said, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.
Saunders Middle School 7th grader Nathaniel Raffier spoke against war in Iraq and Afghanistan in his speech and quoted King in promoting peace.
“He’s trying to tell us war is never the answer…he wanted peace,” he said.
Hamza Mir, an 8th grade student at Porter Traditional School, said he thinks people know what the right thing to do is.
“We don’t need to look to others to see what the right thing to do is, we know what it is,” he said.
Monday’s ceremony also included performances by the Martin Luther King community choir, who got many members of the audience to their feet with songs.
Half-way through Monday’s ceremony, the program paused so that audience members could watch part of President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony on two big screens in the Hylton Chapel.
After Obama took the ceremonial oath of office, the crowd at the Hylton Chapel cheered and applauded.
Each of the six students who spoke at the contest Monday won $100 checks.
Norman Jones won the “best before the audience” award for the middle school level and was awarded a second $100 check and the Joseph Bagnerise, Sr. Award, a NOOK e-reader.
Norman also won the “best before the judges” award for his performance at the regional competition held on Jan. 8 and was awarded another $100 check.
At the high school level, Abbas Idris won the “best before the audience” award at Monday’s competition. Cynthia Johnson won “best before the judges” in the high school level.
All of the students who won their school-level oratorical contests were honored at Monday’s ceremony and were given a medal and a $50 check.
Two participants who did not speak at Monday’s ceremony won the “judge’s choice” award for their performances at the Jan. 8 competition.
Those winners were Hamayel Safi, of Woodbridge Middle School, and Nicholas Smith, of Forest Park High School.
Winners of an essay contest for fourth and fifth graders were also honored Monday and were given a certificate, a book store gift card and a gift.
Winners of the essay contest were Nana Amaniampong, a fifth grader at Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School, Zoree Jones, a fifth grader at Buckland Mills Elementary School, Xa Vian Myles, a fifth grader at Mary G. Williams Elementary School and Valerie Vargas, a fifth grader at Bristow Run Elementary School.
The following students were honored at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Oratorical Contest for winning their school-level oratorical competitions:
Daniel Te, Benton Middle School
Jordyn Harrell, Beville Middle School
Katherine Fitzgerald, Bull Run Middle School
Gracie Scwhab, Gainesville Middle School
Psalms Doucettperry, Godwin Middle School
Ayesha Khursheed, Graham Park Middle School
Kellen Edwards, Lake Ridge Middle School
Morgan Foster, Manassas Park Middle School
Gladys Gonzales, Metz Middle School
Jordan Drake, Mayfield Intermediate School
De ’Andra Beatty, Parkside Middle School
Nicholas Kash, Pennington Traditional School
Hamza Mir, Porter Traditional School
Nathaniel Raffier, Saunders Middle School
Norman Jones, Stonewall Middle School
Hamayel Safi, Woodbridge Middle School
Jazmyn Baker, Battlefield High School
Pharoah English-McMillan, Freedom High School
Nicholas Smith, Forest Park High School
Khanner Hancock, Gar-Field High School
Franklin Tucker II, Hylton High School
Cheyenne Patane, Manassas Park High School
D’Andre Weeden, Osbourn High School
Abbas Idris, Osbourn Park High School
Cynthia Johnson, Stonewall Jackson High School
Jacob Gonzalez, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Natnael Gebre, Woodbridge High School