Student orators make their points at Project Soapbox speech competition

Orange County students demonstrated some impressive oratory skills during last month’s Project Soapbox showdown. And one of them has earned a trip to Washington, D.C. to compete at a national contest this summer.

Organized by Action Civics CA through the Mikva Challenge, Project Soapbox is a public speaking competition that calls on young people to research and address issues impacting them and their communities. The latest local event was held on Saturday, Dec. 8, drawing more than 200 people the campus of Santa Ana’s Santiago Elementary School, including 70 student speakers.

Students and staff from the Anaheim Union High School District

Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda, left, celebrates with students and staff from Brookhurst Junior High at the Project Soapbox competition on Dec. 8.

Top honors overall went to Charolette Kelly, who attends Northwood High School in Irvine. She punched her ticket to the nation’s capital by advocating for the deaf community — both aloud and using American Sign Language.

Within the high school division, Catherine Cueva of Garden Grove secured first place for a speech about gun violence, Cindy Hajjar of Irvine won second for her commentary on religious discrimination and Demi Rosales of Anaheim took third for a speech on self love and depression.

Speaking of Anaheim, the Anaheim Union High School District produced nine of 15 finalists at the event and swept the middle school awards.

“All in all, it was a terrific event and a powerful showing by students of the Anaheim Union High School District,” said Ken Kanouse, a science teacher and speech coach from Brookhurst Junior High School.

Brookhurst fared particularly well, with four students making it to the finals. The school also captured first and third place in the middle school division, Kanouse said.

Top middle school honors went to Brookhurst’s Jimmy Che, who delivered a rebuttal of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Second place went to Viren Mehta of Anaheim for his speech on climate change, and third-place went to Sean Peralta, who spoke about college affordability.

Supporters made their way to Santiago’s auditorium for the finals following initial rounds staged in breakout rooms. Judges for the event included Santa Ana Unified Board of Education Vice President Dr. Rigo Rodriguez, Garden Grove Unified Board of Education trustee Walter Muneton and representatives from the Santa Ana City Council, the Garden Grove City Council, the Orange County Registrar of Voters and the League of Women Voters.