"Very Exciting" Day in the Courtroom

One Brooks School student recently had her day in court — and couldn't have been more thrilled.

Katharine Gutkoski '22 joined 15 other students from area high schools, including Phillips Academy, Central Catholic School and Andover High School, in the Lawrence Bar Association's annual "Law Day" speech competition at Lawrence District Court's Fenton Judicial Center on May 1.

"Speaking in a courtroom was very exciting," said Gutkoski. "I had never been in a courtroom before, let alone speak in one!"

Each student wrote and delivered a speech to the three presiding judges — The Honorable Lynn C. Rooney, First Justice from Lawrence District Court; The Honorable Mark Newman, Associate Justice from Lawrence Juvenile Court; and The Honorable Holly Broadbent, Associate Justice from Lawrence District Court — who ruled on the sole winner and announced the news that afternoon.

The prompt for this year's competition was, "Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society."

"...Free speech and free press are prominent topics in public discourse and litigation," reads the program for event, which opened with a welcome from the President of the Lawrence Bar Association, Hayne Barnwell, Esq. "It is impossible to imagine a free society without these individual liberties, yet historical and current debates surrounding them continually challenge us to consider their boundaries and resilience..."

Many of the student speeches focused on free speech being denied, then restored, and how powerful that was, but Gutkoski took a different tack.

"I decided to talk about how while we have the legal rights to free speech and press, we don't always use them, especially when it comes to certain 'taboo' subjects, which then creates a less free society," she explained. "One of these topics, and the one I chose to focus on, is mental health."

Her English Teacher John Haile, who also runs Brooks School's annual Wilder Speaking Prize, was in the audience. "Katharine did a very good job writing the speech and delivered it very professionally and eloquently," he was proud to report. "She was very poised."

For many years, the winner of the Wilder prize automatically went on to compete at Lawrence's Law Day speech contest. More recently, though, Haile has opened up the opportunity to other students and when Gutkoski heard about it this spring, she signed on.

Learn all about the Wilder Speaking Prize competition's revamped format.

She had already enjoyed some podium practice this school year, thanks to Brooks, where students can take an oratory class and speak in chapel as well as compete in the Wilder contest. In fact, Gutkoski made it to the semi-final round of the Wilder this academic year.

Such experience serves students well, according to Haile. "Most of the time at school you're either writing or maybe doing a panel or a group discussion," he said. "But [opportunities to create and present something for public consumption] give kids a chance to think about the ways in which spoken language is different than written language." Gutkoski seized the Law Day opportunity with both hands.

"I so enjoyed participating in Law Day," she declared after the event. "It was very interesting to go to the courthouse and speak about something I think is really important."

During a luncheon immediately following the competition, one of the judges told her that what she said about mental health "had meant a lot to him and he was very glad I talked about it in my speech," she recalled. "And I think that is what I enjoyed most about the experience, being able to talk about a topic I think is very important and have it mean something to another person. It was very empowering and I hope I can do it again next year!"

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