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Not Another Tragedy…

“Just imagine the audience in their underwear,” goes the age-old saying that many jokingly cite as the key to delivering a public speech. Many are simply troubled when deciding what to say, or, as is the case for sophomores, selecting an appropriate piece of literature to present to their English classes.

Sophomore English students are allowed to select a declamation piece from “the world of literary merit”: novels, plays, speeches, poetry…their options are limitless. So how should students go about narrowing down their pieces?

English teacher Michael Cary knows what makes a text suitable to declaim. “It needs to do two things: it needs to reflect who you are….It ought to be something that is good enough to engage or interest the people who are listening.” This is where imagining the audience in their underwear won’t help improve one’s declamation.

One way to engage the audience, as Assistant Academic Dean, Study Skills Coordinator and English teacher Peter Nilsson suggested, is to select “a text that allows room for oral interpretation.”

Popular and, some may say, somewhat overused selections in the past have been from The Lovely Bones, The Glass Castle, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all very dramatic novels with a fair amount of tragedy involved.

As English teacher Karinne Heise exclaimed, “There’s not enough humor!”

Every student wants to recite a piece with a degree of drama present, but are all dramas tragic?

English teacher Suzanne Hannay’s experience begged the more interesting question: are all tragedies dramatic? “In both instances where you have either something that’s really tragic, or something that’s really bright and witty, they can be very obvious and maybe overdone, and I always find them kind of cloying,” Ms. Hannay confessed.

So how are sophomores navigating the rich world of literature? “I’m doing a section from The Things They Carried,” said Marina Hansen ’13. Like many students as well as their audience, Hansen believes “that declamations that have more of a somber topic move people more than happy declamations.”

Brave enough to take on the challenge of reciting a famous speech, Kyle Wellner ’13 decided to tackle Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Wellner chose it because “it speaks to the audience; its words are powerful.”

Though students are held to the highest standards, it is important to keep in mind how difficult it is not only to speak in front of an audience, but to deliver a piece with just the right amount of drama.

Mr. Cary would choose John Keats’s poem, “To Autumn.” He explained, “I think it is an interesting challenge to recite a poem. It’s different from reading a page of dialogue or a description from a short story because poetry is condensed language, compressed language, and every word counts.”

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