Tales of a fishing expedition with only a lead pipe to show for it, of the most fantastic characters to grace Fenn's halls, and of how one Fenn student got his nickname were expertly told by the winners of the 90th Hector J. Hughes Extemporaneous Speaking Contest on Friday, December 11.
The Extemp Speaking Contest challenges its finalists to select a topic from a hat and deliver an impromptu, up-to-three minute speech to a packed audience in Fenn's Ward Hall. Well, at least in past years, it did. This year, finalists stood alone and masked on the stage looking into the lens of a video camera in a nearly-empty Ward Hall, with English Department Chair and event organizer, Kate Wade, Headmaster Derek Boonisar, three judges from Fenn's Auxiliary staff, and only a few others looking on. Absent were the smiles and hearty applause from classmates and supportive nods from faculty advisors as they told stories of evil cupcakes, imaginary friends, the best and frankly only way to cook a potato, and the best thing about being me. Despite that, all 13 boys exhibited an energy that filled the quiet expanse of Ward Hall and the Fenn classrooms and offices into which the contest was projected via Livestream video.
After about a half-hour of humorous and persuasive speeches, the judges were left with the difficult job of selecting a contest winner and two honorable mention finishers.
Ninth grader Colin Soukup took the top prize after delivering a captivating story about "That time I went fishing in the Concord River and found a...", complete with a strong - and remarkably accurate - Boston accent. His story brought us to "Dead Man's Creek," where instead of finding a Concord River monster as he'd hoped, Colin caught himself a heavy lead pipe. Applauded for his command of the stage, judges were pleased that "although his story was about a pipe-dream, winning this award was not!"
Eighth grader Charlie White and sixth grader Hongting Liu were the judges' choices to receive the two honorable mention awards. Charlie White received the prompt - "Who is the most interesting person on the Fenn campus?" - and quickly revealed that he couldn't limit his answer to one. With stories of a ghost finger from the iLab and a squirrel that frequents Ms. Duval's classroom and is secretly a Norse god, we knew we were in for a fun and surprising twist. The coup de grace of Charlie's speech...? Naming Mr. Boonisar THE most interesting person on Fenn's campus! According to Charlie, Fenn's fearless headmaster is actually a Unicorn god and descendant of Merlin the Wizard and has graced Fenn's halls for eons!
Hongting Liu, during his turn on the stage, shared an engaging story of the path to receiving his nickname "Ting." Beginning with a football game gone wrong, Hongting kept us enthralled with unexpected twists and turns, revealing that he was actually a time-traveler who unfortunately found himself stuck in the 2020 Game of the Year, "Among Us." His willingness to take chances and deliver complex storylines in only three minutes impressed the judges and secured their votes.
With an event where half the experience and memories come from the reactions and support from an audience of peers, faculty, staff, and guests, the Fenn community found ways to show their appreciation to the 13 contestants throughout the school day. Picture socially-distant "air" high-fives, shouts of "Awesome job!" across the quads, and elbow bumps with cohort members. Ms. Wade was effusive with her praise as well, remarking on the contestants' courage, personality, and willingness to show their true selves during their presentations.
Thank you to the judging team of Auxiliary team members Will Blumenthal, DeAndre Dymski, and Mel Hoermann, to faculty members Jason Rude and Ben Smith, who readied (and steadied) the boys before they commanded the stage, and to the entire Fenn community for its enthusiasm for and attention to the first-ever socially-distanced Extemp contest in Fenn's history.
L to r below: White, Soukup, and Liu