At most schools, it’s reserved solely for a Valedictorian, or perhaps a chosen few. But at Academy at the Lakes, a PreK3 through grade-12 private school just north of Tampa, each student — no matter their grade point average, academic honors, or popularity — has the opportunity and the privilege of delivering a senior speech before their family, friends and teachers.
“It’s a rite of passage,” said Upper Division Head Bob Sullivan. “We’ve been doing it for a number of years and the people in the high school now know no different. It is a good opportunity to do something difficult in an environment that’s supportive.”
Despite speaking in a familiar space — the Academy Gymnasium — in front of their school community, many students still find it to be one of the most challenging experiences of their high school career.
Sullivan notes, however, that once the moment has passed, there’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment and boost in self-confidence.
“Students feel better about themselves after the opportunity,” said Sullivan. And if they ever have this opportunity again, they will know what to do and it won’t be so daunting.”
Marie-Christine De Romagna, a 2014 Academy at the Lakes graduate who attended the school beginning in fifth grade, said she was sure that crafting her senior speech would be a breeze.
“I always thought that I would know what I wanted to write about because usually writing essays for me is so easy,” said De Romagna, who is now a sophomore at Stetson University. “But when it came to my senior speech, it was difficult. I wanted what I was going to say to have impact. I wanted to leave the same impression that other seniors’ speeches had on me.”
Ultimately, De Romagna delivered a powerful, confident message about her personal growth throughout high school.
“At Academy at the Lakes confidence just grows on you,” said De Romagna. “You are just going to become a more confident person by going to school there. The teachers and the students, they just bring you up. The tight-knit, family environment is so nurturing. It helps you grow up into a strong individual.”
The ability to communicate with confidence — both one-on-one and to a large group — is an important piece of Academy’s core curriculum, beginning with even its youngest students.
During weekly assemblies, Lower Division students in PreK3 through grade 4 have the opportunity to speak in front of the entire Lower Division community. And each grade throughout the school has classroom greeters and Student Ambassadors who welcome visitors with a firm handshake, a brief introduction, and a confident smile.
All students in grades 4-12 participate in an annual public speaking program through the Language Arts department. This special component of the school’s curriculum provides opportunities to practice public speaking skills, increase confidence in public communication, and to explore in some depth literature, poetry, or speech writing. Grade-level competitions are held with the winning grade level representative presenting at an all-school public speaking assembly each year.
“We do provide a number of opportunities for our students to practice their communication and public speaking skills,” said Sullivan. “For even our youngest students, there are chances to practice in class presenting at the interactive TVs, by serving as a Student Ambassador, by participating in the public speaking competition each winter, or by just learning to advocate for themselves with faculty members.
“Slowly but surely we provide enough opportunities so that students aren’t overwhelmed when the moment for their senior speech actually arrives.”
To learn more about Academy at the Lakes’ and its public speaking program visit www.academyatthelakes.org or call (813) 909-7919.
Or, for 5 Public Speaking Tips for Students, visit our blog.