Sharing Our Truths With the 8th Grade Speech Project
Public speaking is a challenge, even for the most seasoned pros. It involves a complex set of skills, hours of preparation, and the courage to share your voice with an audience. Every fall, our 8th graders face this challenge head-on with the 8th grade speech assignment. Many say this is one of the biggest challenges of their middle school experience, but also the most satisfying.
This year, our 8th graders delivered their speeches via Zoom to the entire Middle School community; communicating virtually comes with its own set of challenges. Without the physical presence of an audience to engage with, our 8th graders fine-tuned their storytelling techniques to ensure their presentations would make an impact.
The Power of Vulnerability
This project brings together research, writing, speaking and presence, and self-reflection. Throughout, our students explore essential questions including:
How can being vulnerable make us stronger?
In what ways can I share my true self with those around me?
How can I be authentic without sounding cliche?
Am I able to listen to others and value who they are?
English teacher Ms. Lauren Paul encourages her students to select topics that are "right and true" for them; something that connects to their core values. The finished products are both polished and compelling. When the 8th graders share these speeches, daring to be vulnerable in front of their peers, it creates a bond among our students. They discover truths about each other they might not otherwise ever know. We asked Ms. Paul to select several speeches that exemplify the spirit of the project. Both she and her students are excited to share their work. Click below for excerpts.
"Courage, as stated in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the 'mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.' Showing courage is not the same as being courageous at heart. It is not an expression you can merely just show on your face, it is an act of bravery in a time of need. I, myself, have been put in a position in which I had to be courageous in order to be there for my family, during the most devastating event in our lives.
I grew up in a relatively large family; two older brothers, Fritz and Henry, and one older sister, Kate. . . . It was the four of us for as long as I can remember. Regardless of where we were in the world we always sustained a close bond. Our strength was tested in the summer of 2019 when one link in our chain of four broke. . . .
It was Wednesday, July 31, 2019, when my twenty-year-old brother Henry had finally realized he needed to seek medical attention for his chronic headaches that he had been having all summer. . . . Both doctors just told him they saw nothing there, and that he needed to drink more water. . . . [Later] We were vacationing in Topsail Island, North Carolina . . . when he suddenly fell ill. My parents took him to the hospital in Wilmington where they diagnosed him with a six by four centimeter brain tumor.
The day that the doctors told us that we had to let him [my brother] go. . . . I, along with my sister and parents, had the courage to hold his hands while they took him off of life support. I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek one last time before he died. I whispered in his ear, 'You were the best brother I could have ever asked for.'
I have come to the conclusion that life is an unsolvable equation; the outcomes in life we have no power over. Closure is dependent on perspective, not a pre- established idea of the end of sadness; though, sadness never truly ends. So, as I find myself indulging in the despair of this great insufferable loss, I will strive to seek only happiness and search for silver linings."
"Individuality: The quality or character of a particular person or thing that distinguishes them from others of the same kind, especially when strongly marked. I did not have any sort of individuality a year ago, and looking back on my rollercoaster of a seventh grade experience, I wish I could have been comfortable showing my individuality.
Over the past few years, I have unknowingly gone through a personal journey. A journey that has led me to maturity, clarity, and a new feeling of confidence and self-worth. . . . I finally know myself, what makes me an individual, and how I can use that new consciousness to find people and interests that pair with what I actually enjoy, not just what others around me enjoy. . . . Throughout most of sixth and seventh grade, I went through everyday thinking about how I could make myself likable to others; not taking a second to think about who I wanted to be myself and what made me feel like the best version of me. . . . By finding myself, I found some of the most meaningful friendships I have ever had."
"Urgency, competitiveness, impatience, achievement-orientation, aggression. These are all traits of someone with 'type A' personality. Type A people tend to be very organized, rigid, and fast-paced, while type B people are more flexible and creative. However, being self-aware for me is more than knowing my personality traits. It is about knowing what my strengths and challenges are, what I believe in, what I am capable of, and who I am as a person.
There are many people who are type A, including myself, and that is not necessarily negative . . . it is important to understand that knowing yourself as an individual does not mean being alone . . . we as teens have had our whole world shift and change. What we thought we knew may have turned out to be false, and who we thought we were has suddenly become uncertain. It seems easier to blend in with everyone else instead of taking the time and effort to discover our individual selves. Conformity becomes a defense mechanism that prevents true self-discovery and real relationships.
I have been able to reflect on the ways my personality influences my decisions and actions. My belief is that once we understand who we are as individuals, we can become better friends, neighbors, students, family members, and leaders. Once we look inward at ourselves, the confidence and strength we find will spread outward into our relationships with others, helping them to be healthier and more genuine."
"Perseverance. Most of the time, speeches about perseverance are just cliche space fillers, barely skimming the surface of what it really means to persevere. But there is a reason that some of the most famous speeches are about perseverance. Perseverance is a lot deeper and more meaningful to me than turning in your homework on time and studying for a week before a quiz, while also doing sports and other extracurricular activities. Perseverance is about never giving up even when all of the odds are against me, when everyone is telling me that I am not going to make it, when I stay strong even though I do not have much of a chance.
My father was the person everyone loved. He was sheepish, and kind of quiet, but once you got to know him he had a big personality. He was likable and charismatic, and had many friends from all over the country. . . . Unfortunately, eight months after my parents married, my father was diagnosed with a cardiac angiosarcoma and was told he only had 9 months to live. . . . He had surgery on his heart to remove the tumor and started industrial strength chemotherapy. . . . After two years of recovery they decided to start a family. The next ten years were great. My brother and I were born, and the doctors said my dad was healthy and cured. In 2009, my mom took him to the ER . . . he had another tumor. . . . My dad had a full course of radiation and then underwent surgery . . . Again, my father had fought his cancer and won. . . . Some months later, they discovered a metastatic tumor in his liver . . . later, the doctors told us that the tumors had spread too far and he started having seizures. . . . Even though he knew he was going to die, he still stayed positive, and thought he was the luckiest man in the world. . . . On April 13, 2012, he died in my mom’s arms.
I learned that all that should ever be asked is to try, and as long as I do that, I never need to worry. Because what is going to happen is going to happen, and as long as I am doing the best that I can do, then all I can control is my acceptance."
"My mother and her parents were kicked out of the Soviet Union in 1980 because the Soviet Secret Police heard them talking about wanting to leave the country. My father’s parents escaped the Nazis from Poland and Romania during World War II. I am in this country because of my grandparents' experiences in the face of communism and antisemitism. This is the story of my family’s journey.
My maternal grandparents climbed as far as they could in Russian society without declaring party membership. . . . In early March of 1980, the KGB . . . informed my grandfather that they had been listening in on their telephone conversations and that they had heard anti-communist language. Both of my grandparents were instructed to not return to work and they were given thirty days to leave the country. . . . all of their money and property was confiscated by the government . . . they made it to America with almost no money or possessions and minimal understanding of the English language and American culture.
My paternal grandmother was born in Romania in 1931. Eight years later, the Nazis came to power. The Nazis turned my grandmother's synagogue into a concentration camp . . . my grandmother boarded a ship on December 27, 1947. . . detainment camp in Cyprus . . . She escaped the camp in 1948 when, in the middle of the night, Jewish sailors with British naval boats broke into the camp to take the Jewish detainees to Palestine.
My paternal grandfather was born in 1923 in Warsaw, Poland. . . . when the Nazis came to power, my grandfather, at age 14, decided to leave Poland. His family disagreed saying that the Nazis would pass and not affect them. My grandfather got on his bike and rode it all the way to Russia. Soon after, both of my grandfather’s parents and his two youngest brothers were murdered by the Nazis . . . My grandfather boarded a train in Russia and headed to Britain . . . he lied about his age and joined the British navy. . . . Years later, my grandparents realized that my grandfather was one of the sailors who rescued my grandmother from Cyprus.
I understand well how fortunate I am to be here. Each one of my grandparents survived hardships I cannot even imagine… I appreciate the liberty and freedoms I have. I work hard everyday in honor of the sacrifices they made and the gift they gave me of being in this country."
"My grandfather, or Pop as we called him, was one of the happiest people you would ever meet. He always was cracking jokes and laughing. His laugh brought me and everyone around him joy. Whenever I looked over at him, he was always smiling. Pop taught me to always smile and radiate positive energy for the people around me, even if I had a bad day. If I did not get to know my grandpa the way I have, I would never have learned how to truly be happy.
Last year was our final year in Belgium . . . I was overwhelmed with excitement to be able to see my friends and family again and could not wait to get on the plane. The main reason we were moving to Annapolis was to move in with my grandparents in order to help them out.
When I first walked through the door . . . I saw Pop sitting in a wheelchair with a breathing machine and a tube around his nose. . . . Pop might not make it through the night. . . . I went upstairs to tell Pop I loved him one last time. . . . I realized that I wanted to have a life as great as his. . . . I am proud to live here and proud to be his grandchild. His friends and family were what he needed to achieve true happiness. Everyday I try to be more and more like him in that way."
"I was very unsure what to decide on for my speech topic. Whether good or bad, the reality is that there is no particular life event that I can claim as life changing necessarily . . . It took me a while, but I finally arrived at a topic. It is something that I continue to work on gaining more of — confidence. Oftentimes, my nerves overtake me, causing me to overthink all of the possible negative outcomes, to the point where my confidence disappears, and consequently, I do not feel that I am at my best. Over the course of time though, through both the good and the bad, I have learned to think more positively as I approach new experiences. . . . . Confidence is my key to success.
I realized that I needed to stop constantly overthinking. Instead, I started to think a little more positively, thinking less about what I could potentially do wrong, and more about what I wanted to improve. I started to realize making a mistake would not be the end of the world. I know that I am my worst critic, so what is there to fear?
Thinking more positively, in itself, boosted my confidence. This newfound confidence helped me to speak up, which was the greatest feeling, making me more comfortable just being myself. . . . I have experienced how the power of confidence can change everything for the better. It is something I will continue to work on as I mature and set new goals for myself. If gaining some confidence has positively affected my life, then gaining even more could be amazing in my future."
"As freelance writer Steve Goddier once said, “Those who overcome challenges will be changed, and often in unexpected ways. For our struggles enter our lives as unwelcome guests, but they bring valuable gifts.” My older brother, Luke, was adopted by my parents at birth, from Tampa Bay, Florida. The date was November 21st, 2006; almost exactly 5 months before the day I was born. From early on in his life, it became clear to my parents that he would have both physical and cognitive developmental delays. Luke’s prognosis was a struggle for him that he would have to live with forever, but with the love of his family, he is able to meet the challenges thrown at him.
For the most part, I was unaware of the challenges Luke had, and we grew up extremely close and we did everything together. We were almost like twins. Based on stories my parents have told me, Luke would always try to come into my room and babble to me. Also, as we got older, Luke and I read books together, traveled around in a double-stroller together, learned how to swim and ride bikes together, and then started school together. However, that is when our lives started to diverge.
There are challenges I face when it comes to my brother. Although I hear what everyone says, Luke is often oblivious to people’s thoughts and comments about him. Sometimes his behavior in public or around my friends makes me self-conscious . . . the reactions on people’s faces, make me feel badly for him. . . . When they do not accept Luke, and make fun of him, I get hurt too . . . with love and support, he has worked diligently and tenaciously to overcome challenges . . . Luke’s naturally affectionate nature, crazy sense of humor, and unique outlook on life has taught me to be a more loving sister, to laugh a lot, and to be compassionate. I could not imagine my life without Luke, and I am so happy for the day my parents brought him into our family."
"I am sure we can all agree 2020 has been a crazy year. I often hear people say that Covid-19 is a once in lifetime event. In fact, the last pandemic of this size was the 1918 flu. It really made me wonder what once in a lifetime really means. And then I thought, for my great grandmother, who was born in 1916, and turned 104 three weeks ago, what would 'once in a lifetime' mean to her?
Elizabeth Lydia Eleanor Ide, or as I know her, GG, has lived a remarkable life, but not for the reasons you might think. She was not wealthy, did not own fancy cars, and never traveled the world. But the experiences she had with her family and friends has made her life extremely rich. The first few of her homes did not have plumbing and they had to use outhouses and bedside pots . . . she lived through the Great Depression . . . attended college... was excited to get her first job in a one room schoolhouse where she taught all eight grades of students at the same time.
In 2000, my great grandfather passed away. A year later, on 9/11, my father was working . . . in the World Trade Center. . . . During this time, GG suffered a stroke. . . . She outlived all of her brothers and her youngest sister. . . . My GG lived through the Flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, World War I, the Korean War, World War II, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, The Persian Gulf War, 9/11, and now COVID-19 . . . she also watched women gain the right to vote and Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon on a black and white television.
So what do we know about a lifetime, in our years of living so far? What do we really know about a once in a lifetime event, and what can we learn from the lessons of our grandparents and, if we’re really lucky, great grandparents? We have a lot to learn . . . We only get one chance at life . . . we need to appreciate what we experience. As Ferris Buller famously said, 'Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.'"
"A brown marker was grasped. Lines shot out across the paper. A picture began to take form. Beaming with pride, I showed the paper to my parents. It was nothing more than a few squiggly lines, but in my two-year old mind, it was a picture of a bull. It may not have looked like much, but I certainly believed in it. I have been drawing since I could remember. Over the years, the realism of these drawings of mine have increased, along with my understanding of the world. If anybody compared my artwork from preschool to now, it would be incomparable. It is not because I have grown older, it is because I have been continuously drawing. I have poured effort and work into my art, and consequently, I have improved. This lesson goes for anything: if anyone really cares about something, and puts effort and time into achieving their goal, then they will achieve that goal. My drawings have grown as I have. I have learned many, many lessons from drawing, and it has shaped my life in many ways.
Years ago, I was drawing, and my aunt walked up to me. She saw me yearning to try something different with my art. She sat down, and taught me how to draw in the third dimension. . . . My mind was blown when I realized that I could create something in a style so new to me. I began to take pride in my art and myself.
Drawing has shaped my life, and has taught me a multitude of lessons. I have become more patient . . . I have learned to try new styles of art, because change can be good. Drawing has reinforced my conviction that effort often pays off. And of course, drawing has taught me creativity. Drawing has shaped me into the person I am today."
"Change. When taken at face value this can be a frightening word, however during some points of our lives it is exactly what we need. The first thought that may come to mind when thinking of change is something negative or difficult. But, depending on how change is viewed, it can be what is needed most in life.
All of our lives have undergone quite a bit of change in the last few months, but it was only after the one of the biggest changes in my life that my perspective on this word truly changed.
I was seven years old and had lived in the same house in the same town for my entire life. I had gone to the same school just down the street from my house. I even had the same friends for as long as I could remember. Then, one day my parents told me that our family was moving to Australia. A lot of people would have been excited about this new adventure, but all that was running through my mind was how much I wanted everything to stay the same.
I could not stop worrying about everything from making new friends, starting a new school, adapting to a new culture and leaving behind my extended family in the United States. . . . After a few weeks something strange started to happen. I started to enjoy myself. . . . I also got to experience a new culture and visit places of the world I never knew existed. I met great friends who I still keep in touch with today. . . . After almost three years when it was time to come back to the U.S., I found myself being upset about leaving my new home and the friends that I had made, just like I was when I found out we were moving all those years ago.
This experience has stayed with me and taught me an important lesson to not always assume the worst. It taught me to try and find the positives in a situation instead of searching for the ways that it will hurt me or make life harder. Now when I am presented with a change, even if it is a difficult one, I try to view it as a new challenge, a new way to learn, and a way to make myself a better person."
“At the heart of these speeches, I ask the students to do something that, for the majority of middle schoolers, can be the scariest moment — being vulnerable in front of their community. I tell the 8th graders that most people associate vulnerability with weakness, but it is quite the opposite. There is strength and freedom in being vulnerable. The 8th graders not only met but far exceeded my expectations. Every time one of my kids finishes his or her speech, I could not be more proud and am honored that they trust me enough to have the courage to share themselves with all of us.” — Ms. Paul