“Here I stand, achieved, determined, and ambitious.”
- Shaleyda Dudley, 14, Bronx, New York

Crisis and Hope: WKCD Speech Contest 2009

“My dream is that this recession will remind us what truly matters most.” -  Kelly McDonald, 13, Manchester, New Hampshire

PROVIDENCE, RI—For a number of years, WKCD has invited high school graduation speakers across the country to send us their speeches.  We’ve picked “winners”—typically speeches that ventured “outside the box”—and posted them on our website.

This year, we took a different tack. We invited students, from age 12 to 19, to send us a graduation speech they would like to give. And we asked them to speak to the topic, “Crisis and hope in these trying times.” We encouraged students to let others know what matters most to them in this period of economic and world crisis—and what gives them hope. 

We received over 150 submissions, from sixth through twelfth graders. What we read was chastening.

Students describe personal hardships: losing a house to foreclosure, a father needing to move to another city in search of work, a sibling having to put off college, parents sinking with stress. “This world is going through an economic crisis,” writes Tatiana Umana, a seventh grader from Bowie, Maryland. “I might only be 13 years old, but I know what is going on in the world and it is affecting my family. For example, my mother lost her job.” 

Their list of worries extends far and wide: global warming, a belligerent North Korea, HIV/AIDS in Africa, the poor state of America’s public schools,  the decline of independent journalism, what is lost in a “throw away” society, the seeming rise of hatred, the trends of outsourcing jobs and increasing unemployment.

Ninth grader Audrey Owens from Columbus, Ohio says: “For me, my fears get bigger and bigger with every day of troubles. With every day of war. With every day of crime. With every day of poverty. With every day of global warming. With every day of thinking ‘the world is spiraling in a downfall.’ These things are just a few of my fears though. And they don’t just scare me for the sake of my life, but they scare me for the sake of the world.”

Where, then, do these young speakers find hope? They talk about the power of knowledge and action to solve problems, the resilience of the American people, or their faith in god. Many point to the ways small, positive acts add up to big changes. Most of all, they speak of working together and helping others.

“Many people ask, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ This is not the right question to ask. The question is, ‘What are you going to do to help the world?’”
- Anthony Springer, 9th grade, Metro High School, Columbus, Ohio

“Improving human relations is like catching a fever. One person gets it, and before you know it, a bunch of other people get it.”
 - Timothy Dunleavy, 7th grade, St. Cajetan School, Chicago, Illinois

“There are so many ways that we can be pulling together in order to help our struggling economy, communities, and people. We could be just doing things as simple as recycling or mowing a neighbor’s yard. If you are someone who has the means to give money, then donate to The Salvation Army and your local shelters. Think of things that you can do for your community. “
- Brett Londos, 11th grade, Hanover-Horton High School, Horton, Michigan

Click here to read winning high school speeches

Click here to read winning middle school speeches

High school winners

Kayla A. Carlisle, 9th grade, Golden Sierra High School, Garden Valley, California
Dominique Clarke, 11th grade, Timber Creek Regional High School, Sicklerville, New Jersey
Kyle Faber, 10th grade, Metro High School, Columbus, Ohio
Matthew Gonzalez, 9th grade, Bronx Aerospace High School, Bronx, New York
Anna Meister, 12th grade, Future Pathways, Des Moines, Iowa 
Audrey Owens, 9th grade, Metro High School, Columbus, Ohio

Middle school winners

Chloe Erwin, 7th grade, J. Graham Brown School, Louisville, Kentucky
Kelly McDonald, 8th grade, Derryfield School, Manchester, New Hampshire
Genesis M., 6th grade, Gage Middle School, Huntington Park, California
Emily Rush, 7th grade, J. Graham Brown School, Louisville, Kentucky
Krishnan Sethumadhavan, 8th grade. Markham Woods Middle School, Lake Mary, Florida
Adrian Stewart, 7th grade. Benjamin Tasker Middle School, Bowie, Maryland
Hannah Summers, 7th grade, J. Graham Brown School, Louisville, Kentucky


Kids on the Wire


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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator