Finding Their Voices

Because of a class at Brooks, Kendall Ziady '22 didn't have to make a New Year's resolution to conquer her fear of public speaking. Studying oratory in an English class helped her find her voice and use it.

"Before oratory, I was not confident about public speaking," said Ziady (bottom left), who joined nine classmates in delivering their final, 10-minute-long oratory class speeches in Chapel last week during the course of two evenings. "I was hesitant to take the class because I was nervous to speak in front of so many people. But with the help of Mr. McVeigh and my classmates, I am much more comfortable speaking in public and I enjoy sharing my writing with other people."

Watch the Oratory speeches on the Fall 2021 class's YouTube channel

And that, oratory teacher John McVeigh said, is exactly the point of the elective that provides "innovative instruction to help students refine their speech writing and delivery styles in small groups and in a classroom setting," as described in the course catalog.

Throughout the course, students read and analyze the texts of speeches throughout history. They write and revise, examine videos of speeches, and gain the skills and confidence to take to the podium themselves and share remarks about something meaningful to them.

"I always try to share with folks just how much work goes into a great speech," said McVeigh. "The easier and more natural it looks, the more time and hard work probably went into it. Our students care tremendously about these speeches and they put their hearts into the process."

This fall's batch of addresses touched on a variety of topics, from loved ones and sports to family pets, with a single common trait: These speakers were prepared.

"This group has been very coachable," said McVeigh. "They have really sought out and incorporated feedback into their speeches. They've also been terrific partners and providers of constructive criticism to their classmates. By the end of the semester, it felt like a team and everyone was invested in each other's success."

Following an oratory season away from in-person class during COVID-19 pandemic last year, "it is so nice to be back together in the Chapel with our community for these moments," he added.

Teaching oratory at Brooks is "one of the most meaningful and enjoyable blessings of my Brooks career," said McVeigh, who is also associate head of school for faculty affairs and will be leaving Brooks this summer after nearly two decades to become the head of Holderness School.

"Each year, I am in awe of the courage our students show in standing in front of an audience, being vulnerable and sharing their experiences and perspectives," he explained. "There is nothing like the moment when a student finishes and looks out over their standing ovation. ... It's the kind of moment that our students remember forever, and it's an honor to be a small part of it with them."

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