Three downtown Los Angeles students have won top honors in the Japanese American Optimist Club’s annual oratorical contest, delivering soaring speeches on how their passions impact the world.
Slavi Arnaudov, 17, won first place for his oratory on how his passion for debate spreads knowledge, proposes ideas to fix social ills and develops the next generation of leaders. Remarkably, Arnaudov emigrated to the U.S. from his native Bulgaria just three years ago but said he learned English by watching Cartoon Network from age four.
Passion for respect and understanding was the theme for second-place winner Lynie Wong, 17. Quoting anthropologist Margaret Mead on how thoughtful citizens can change the world, Wong declared that respecting others creates safer environments for creativity and individuality.
The third-place winner was Eleanor Skladman, 15, who also spoke about her passion for debate. She said debate had taught her about current events and opened her mind to new ideas, equipping her with the knowledge to make a difference in the world.
The three winners, along with three other contestants, are all members of the debate club at Downtown Magnets High School on Temple Avenue. Fellow students Ngor Luong, Sarahi Silva and Itzayana Lopez also participated in the contest, held March 5 at Taix Restaurant in Los Angeles. The winners were awarded gift cards and medallions, and all students received certificates of participation.
Arnaudov and Wong will advance to Optimist International’s zone-level competition April 30. If successful, they will move on for the chance to win up to $2,500 in scholarships at the district level.
Contest judges were Marian Shima, vice president of programs at Town Hall Los Angeles; Darrell Kunitomi, actor and Los Angeles Times tour guide; and Ann Lee, a media communication liaison at The Korea Daily – Jmnet USA.
Kitty Sankey, JAO vice-president of youth programs, praised the eloquence and cultural diversity of the students, whose school participated in the contest for the first time.
“It is the goal of JAO to empower young people to strive to be the very best that they can be,” Sankey said. “Through the oratorical contest, students can gain confidence in public speaking and compete for scholarships at the district level.”