Thursday, May 30, 2024

Local High School Students Display Oratory Excellence

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The Stratford Rotary Club held the High School Student Four-Way Test speech contest at the Stratford Library. Five high school students from Bunnell and Stratford High competed in the contest, with topics that included the criminal justice system, alternative lifestyles and the need for more support for the nursing profession. All speeches contained the components of the Rotary 4 – Way test: Is it the truth, is it fair, will it build goodwill and better friendships, and will it be beneficial to all.

Kayla Johnson from Bunnell won the Four Way Speech Contest, and is now eligible to participate in the District semi-final contest to be held in Trumbull on Saturday, March 16th. At this contest, two students will be selected to participate in the District finals to be held on Saturday, April 20th, at a location yet to be announced. 

Taylor Tunstall and Amoya Williams from Bunnell were runners-up.

Kayla Johnson

Bunnell High School

Each year that someone spends in prison cuts their life expectancy by two years. When compared to the general population, men and women with a history of incarceration are in worse mental and physical health. This topic is important to me because I have family members who are incarcerated, and I have watched shows such as 60 Days In, where actors and the audience see firsthand what inmates go through. Incarceration can take an immense toll on the physical body, mental mind, and sexual ideals of the inmates it inhabits. Throughout this speech, I will address inmates’ struggles and how the justice system should be reformed to help rather than hurt those incarcerated.

Firstly, incarceration has negative health effects on inmates because it influences their physical well-being. An article by the National Institute of Health analyzed a range of physical conditions experienced in solitary confinement and broke them down into the top three most common. These three symptoms include skin irritations and weight fluctuation associated with the strict conditions of solitary confinement, untreated and/or mistreated chronic conditions, and musculoskeletal pain aggravated by these strict policies. A lot of these physical symptoms are due to the small space they are confined to, lack of movement/exercise, and a lack of medical treatment and/or care of inmates, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

Prior studies have found evidence that health care provided to the U.S. incarcerated population, roughly two million individuals, is often understaffed, underfunded, and of poor quality. Just this past October, an inmate at the South Mississippi Correctional Institute in Leakesville noticed blood in his urine and experienced extreme back pain.  He was taken to the ER six days later but was referred to a specialist. He went weeks without being taken to this specialist and was told he was unlikely to see them because of “transportation issues.”  Whether this is true or not, inmates are humans and deserve the right to medical care. This example is sadly a common occurrence throughout the prison systems in the United States. When an inmate is denied medical treatment in jail or prison, officers are literally violating that person’s civil rights and, in turn, breaking the law.

In addition to physical health, incarceration has negative effects on mental health. The mental health conditions inmates experience are often serious, which is indicated by the large number of inmates on psychiatric medication. Mental illness in prison also leads to a variety of detrimental outcomes, both during and after the period of incarceration, when inmates are released. Poor mental health is associated with higher rates of prison misconduct and higher overall costs for the institution, due to the need to acquire more medicine and more medical personnel. Poor mental health during incarceration reduces employability and the ability to find housing after an inmate is released, and it likely contributes to continued mental health difficulties after release, due to the high risk of recurrence associated with some mental health conditions.

Lastly, incarceration can even negatively influence an inmate’s sexual well-being. The National Institutes of Health noted an increase in poor relationship decision-making and more incidents of HIV and STD following release from prison.

We as a society need to rethink the way in which we treat those who break the law.  Of course, we need consequences for our society to function properly. However, the conditions of our prisons need to change. Those who are incarcerated should not be subjected to physical and emotional turmoil. They should be there to learn and grow in order to contribute positively to our society upon their release. It is time to rethink how we structure our prisons and create a better society.

Brennan Kelly

Stratford High School

Good Morning. When I hear the word happiness, I think about a warm summer day at the beach with my friends. The laughter of my family at the holidays. Sitting on my porch on a cool spring morning. What comes to your mind when you hear the word happiness? What does it mean to you? The standard definition, provided by the Oxford English Dictionary is, “the state of pleasurable contentment of mind; deep pleasure in or contentment with one’s circumstances.” Some of you may be asking, how can this be achieved? A study featured on CBS news conducted by the financial services company, Empower, revealed the popular answer. Six in ten Americans believe that money can buy happiness. Empower then asked how much money would be needed to achieve this happiness. The answer? The ideal salary needed to achieve this would be $284,000 each year, on average, according to these Americans. Now that you have had a chance to think about what happiness is and means to you, I want you to consider if money does in fact buy happiness. Do you need $284,000 a year to achieve contentment? The fact of the matter is that six in ten Americans believe this is the case. What if I told you, however, that happiness doesn’t cost a thing. That happiness can be achieved with a simple change in perspective? 

The first step is changing the way in which we as a society view happiness. Aristotle described happiness as the final cause, the end goal of all things. The Greek word he used was “eudemonia”. This means not just subjective contentment, but objective perfection. A complete, full life that lives up to one’s desired achievements and potential. It appears that most of society agrees with this notion of perfection. I believe that the chase for perfection will lead our society down an imperfect road. For example, you have a test tomorrow and you stay up all night studying for it. All you want is an A. Yet, because you were tired from foregoing sleep to study, you get a B. If everything was perfect, then perfection wouldn’t exist. So why are people using this as their standard for happiness? Let’s revisit the definition from the Oxford English dictionary that I read earlier. It was said that happiness is, “the state of pleasurable contentment of mind; deep pleasure in or contentment with one’s circumstances”. I certainly agree with this definition, but not in the way one might think. I believe that the goal is not to work simply to achieve this contentment, but to act in a way that will provide the contentment in turn. The answer to this predicament comes, in fact, from the definition itself. The definition ends with, “content with one’s circumstances.” Good news for the world, this isn’t something we have to obtain. All we have to do is create it. But what do we have to create? To sum it up in one word, gratitude. There is an excerpt from an article by Harvard Health that, “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. … Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. … Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.”

There is another thing that we must do before we can begin to cultivate gratitude to its fullest extent–our second step. In order for us to appreciate the good things we have, we must accept the things that dishearten us as well. The fight you had with a friend. The less-than-perfect test score. The phone call that brought you bad news. Modern Recovery Services reminds us that, “Practicing acceptance helps individuals to acknowledge their feelings and experiences without judgment. This non-resistant approach to personal experiences often leads to reduced levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, fostering an overall improvement in emotional well-being.” Here is a simple practice that you can use in your daily life. Try to list out all the unpleasant things you may be experiencing. It doesn’t have to be on paper or anywhere official. It can be kept in your mind for just you. Now, for every unpleasant thing, I want you to list a pleasant one. The comfort of reading a good book. Time spent with family. The kindness of a stranger. This is, perhaps, the most important of all. 

It is important that we not underestimate the power of kindness in promoting our gratitude. Practicing this kindness is our third step. Not just in the act of receiving it, but in the act of giving it. The Mental Health foundation says that, “Studies have found that acts of kindness are linked to increased feelings of well-being. Helping others can also improve our support networks and encourage us to be more active.  This, in turn, can improve our self-esteem. There is some evidence to suggest that when  we  help others, it can promote changes in the brain that are linked with happiness.” Our serotonin levels, a chemical that makes you more focused, emotionally stable, happier and calmer, are boosted. The brain stem is activated to produce dopamine, which increases feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Here is a story from the Stratford Patch: “We would like to recognize three good Samaritans who, through their actions, teach us that it is never too soon to open our hearts and be proactive in helping others. Michaela Augusztin (grade 5), Isabella Augusztin (grade 2), and Emily Lathlean (grade 1). This trio took advantage of a community block party to make and sell Rainbow Loom Bracelets for a quarter. They raised nearly $16.00, which the girls donated to the St. James Food Pantry in order to help families in need.” This shows the power of kindness. It can be simple, and people of any age can engage in it. Showing gratitude towards others can in turn make you more appreciative of them. This then improves our own gratitude. With this in mind, I want to challenge you by taking the activity we did earlier one step further. Think about something positive on your list where another person did something to make that happen or supported you in making it happen. Think about why you said this was positive and why it made you grateful. I encourage you to share this with the other person. You will be able to experience the process of learning why something makes you grateful. Even further, you will see just how impactful sharing this gratitude with another person can be. You will find yourself happier, maybe even without realizing it. It won’t happen overnight, or even in a week, but the more grateful you are, and the more you share it, the happier you will become, and it doesn’t cost a cent, much less $284,000. I wish you all luck on your journey of gratitude. Thank you. 

Taylor Tunstall

Bunnell High School

This time last year, if my teacher came up to me and recommended I do this optional speech, I would’ve been certain not to do it. I would have gone to my friends, and I would have laughed about it, and I would have left it at that, but somehow starting freshman year has been different. I actually enjoy school, meeting new people, and trying new things, which is why I am standing here to convince students to reconsider their perspective on freshman year in high school. 

I went to a small middle school. Imagine all the classes you needed were in the same hallway close together like a tunnel in an ant farm, and everyone knew everyone since they were three, maybe even knowing siblings way older than them. If it was known a kid was skipping, they would have been found in a heartbeat, but that’s difficult to do in a building as big as this one. I notice how kids will come to class, “use the bathroom” and then never come back, or sometimes just not show up at all…. and I worry for them. I worry for my own future constantly. I worry about how the career I’d like is very difficult to succeed in. I worry that I won’t be able to afford the life I want. I couldn’t imagine the idea of going from having a loving home to barely making it by. I’ll be out with my mom Shopping at Milford mall and on the small section across the street from Sonic I see a person with a sign. Ripped sweater. Dirty. Unkempt. A different person each time, out begging for food and money, with no home to go back to and shelter them. When I see it, I can’t help but worry that someday that will be me. The idea of not even being able to sleep in a warm bed or take a hot shower is terrifying to me. People don’t realize how important the beginning of their life is because they haven’t reached the hardest part yet. And what hurts the most is that stereotypes make it harder for people of color to succeed. People in general do not understand how these four years of their life affect their future. 

When it comes to getting high-paying jobs, black people have always had a disadvantage compared to white people. Econofact, a non-partisan publication site designed to bring key facts and analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies, has recently done a study on this claim. The results had shown that while the gap between the two is narrowing, there is still evidence that shows black job seekers struggle more in being hired than white people. According to the article, which discusses the differences in age demographics, a large portion, “a larger share of the working age black population is under age 50 when people are more likely to work. A larger share of the white population is older and more likely to have stopped working.” This may seem like a big advantage, but after splitting the groups in half the study still showed that despite the gap narrowing, black people are still at a lower percentage of employment when they are compared. Other studies that have been done, show that black Americans tend to make up a greater percent of people unemployed with a 6 to 10 times higher job turnover rate and more months spent unemployed. All these people who are unemployed not only have their own lives to care for, but they have families. It’s extremely unfair that the world has this view on people, but because people of color are constantly stereotyped we have to work twice as hard to prove our worth and get where we want in life. As a teen this may seem far into the future, but these four years are where you start to frame your life to get a good paying job and set yourself up for a successful future.

I feel like too many kids view high school as the end of their childhood instead of a new beginning, which is personally all I’ve been able to think about. Immediately one of my main thoughts was for college–it is known that being a college graduate opens up more opportunities for high paying careers. According to Northeastern University’s “10 benefits of having a college degree”, college graduates have a 57 percent higher chance at a high paying career than people without, and choices are even more accessible for existing jobs. College also prepares people for specialized careers, increases their earning potential, and helps with economic stability. Studies have shown individuals without a degree are three times more likely to be living in poverty. For most selective colleges such as UCONN or Boston University, you have a higher chance of acceptance with a higher GPA, and a fact I wish more people my age considered is that even though a class may not be required to take more than once, it still benefits them to do so. For example, even though the required number of world language classes taken at Stratford High is one to graduate, a lot of selective colleges prefer applicants to have two to three. There are many factors in high school that are extremely important to college, and even though the work may be difficult or uninteresting, dropping out, which has low chances to succeed in comparison to putting in work, is a very risky choice to make.

Dropping out of high school also comes with negative consequences mentally and physically as well. A study done by researchers in the universities in Colorado, New York, and North Carolina found that many high school dropouts end up dying early deaths due to diseases, also related to the lack of benefits they receive from low paying jobs, causing them to avoid healthcare. 

The main reason I push success for myself is because I only have two pictures in my head. The first one is me sitting on the sidewalk across from Sonic, with a sign in my hand, with the only things keeping me going are prayers, donations from kind strangers, and my mind repeating the same thoughts of “where am I going to sleep tonight?” and “how could I have prevented this?” The second, is my studying at one of my dream colleges, not having to worry about where my next meal is coming from or where to shelter from the rain. I’ll have a space to prepare my life with other people as passionate as me, and hopefully for my own family one day to live as well as what my parents give to me. I choose to try new things and learn, not only because my mom would kill me if she saw me skipping a class, but because there is some place I want to be in life and I’m determined to get there. I wanted to write about this topic because I want other kids to care more about how this matters. I want them to hear this information and not be scared about it, but see it as the truth and use it to push them like how this pushes me. And while I’m aware not a lot of kids would give this a second thought, I want to have hope that for the few kids out there who are ready to skip their next class, you really need to start to think about what this means for your future, because attending these classes are only the first step to the rest of what life has to teach us.

Amoya Williamson

Bunnell High School

As a little girl, I would observe my grandmother with multiple illnesses and the hardship of her pursuit to find treatment for these numerous health conditions. These observations as a child contributed to my motivation to become one of the world’s greatest nurses. I used to question myself, “Will she ever get better?” And through the work of many doctors and nurses, she did. Throughout my speech, I want to inform you all about the importance of nursing and why nurses should be treated well in our society.

Some of you may know Florence Nightingale, an inspiring woman who was the founder of modern nursing in the 1860s. My greatest gratitude goes out to her for introducing something that is now my inspiration and dream. Her contributions and dedication to the profession paved the way for many aspiring nurses, including myself. The introduction of nursing brought about a significant change in people’s lives. It transformed how we care for the sick and injured, providing specialized knowledge and trained professionals to ensure better healthcare for everyone.

When something happens, and we need help, the hospital is the first place we turn to. It’s where we feel safe, knowing we’ll receive the care and support we need to improve. Nurses come into work every day with a positive mindset, ready to make a difference in our lives. They go above and beyond by taking the time to listen to patients’ concerns, providing emotional support, and advocating for their wellbeing.

Imagine, a 55-year old man named Mr. Johnson. He finds himself in the hospital, battling a serious illness and feeling incredibly alone. His days are filled with sadness, and he doesn’t have any family to lean on for support. The nurses at the institution provided him with not just medical care but a listening ear. They spent extra time with him, sharing stories, laughter and even tears. With their positive and personable demeanor, nurses create a healing environment where patients like Mr. Johnson feel seen, heard, and supported.

Nurses go through some serious hard work to earn their degrees. This type of education is no walk in the park. Many students struggle to balance work, family, and their studies. But you know what’s amazing? They refuse to miss a day because they understand the importance of learning the skills to save someone’s life. They have sleepless nights, even when their eyes are as tired as a marathon runner at the finish line. They spend sleepless nights reviewing textbooks, flashcards, and practice questions, preparing for the ultimate test of their nursing knowledge: the NCLEX exam.

Let’s put together the picture of the disturbing reality that nurses face within a healthcare setting. According to the American Nursing Association, it is really concerning to hear that nearly two-thirds of nurses, specifically 62%, have been experiencing burnout since 2020. Providing compassionate care, working long hours, changing shift schedules, having low staffing, having a high workload, and being on their feet for hours can take a toll on nurses. The pandemic has increased stress on nurses in other ways, too. Witnessing patient deaths and being asked to provide moral and emotional support for those who die without their families nearby is an emotional burden that often falls on nurses. Burnout can also be caused by something known as moral injury. This happens when nurses feel like they must do things or witness things that go against their moral beliefs. It can also occur when they know what kind of care their patients need but are unable to provide due to factors beyond their control. Research from the American Nursing Association shows that 100,000 nurses quit their jobs during the pandemic, contributing to a lack of staff in present day. Ninety-four percent of the nursing homes reported a nursing shortage during the pandemic. This situation highlights the urgent need for better support and resources for our healthcare workers.

Imagine this, it’s a busy day at the hospital. Nurse Brown is rushing to provide the best care possible for her patient, but instead of a warm welcome, the patient is upset and angry. Now, think about a time when you’ve had to deal with someone who was rude or disrespectful. Remember how it made you feel? That’s the kind of experience nurses like Mrs. Brown might face on a daily basis. Remember that nurses are human behind those white coats, scrubs, and stethoscopes, just like me and you.

Despite these challenges, these dedicated professionals remain committed to their patients’ well-being and determined to deliver the best care possible. Nurses don’t judge, they don’t judge based on the color of your skin, your religion, or sexuality.  And let’s not forget the incredible dedication of nurses who work tirelessly during long shifts, sacrificing their own rest and personal time for their patients. Imagine being in their shoes, handling demanding tasks, emergencies, and life-threatening conditions. Do you think you could ever handle the challenges they face?

It’s essential for people to recognize and appreciate those who choose to pursue a career in nursing. We should be grateful for their dedication and passion because our healthcare system would face even greater challenges without nurses. The shortage of nurses highlights the urgent need to support and encourage individuals who want to enter nursing.

Let us stand together in appreciation and support for these remarkable individuals who make a difference in the lives of many. Remember my face, and a few years from now, you will see me at your local hospital. It is my mission to become one of the world’s greatest nurses. Thank you.                                                                                                      

Brian Garrow

Bunnell High School

Imagine walking with your partner, holding their hand, and getting harassed and called nasty names. Imagine being unable to fit in or make friends because you’re “the gay kid” or the “weird kid”? Homophobia has recently been resurfacing in the news, with all the new anti-LGBTQ laws making their way in the United States. These bills have taken a big toll on young people’s mental health and safety. Today, I will explain the effects and oppression that many in this community experience daily just because of who they love.

The historic event that paved the way for the modern gay rights movement began in the early morning of June 28, 1969, at a popular gay bar, The Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Inn was often raided by law enforcement because same-sex relations were still illegal in the 1960s. People were fed up with discrimination, treatment, and unfairness from the mafia and law enforcement. On the morning of June 28, 1969, law enforcement tried to raid the popular bar, but this time, people fought back. The protest lasted five days, with around 400 people protesting and 13 arrested. This was a monumental event in LGBTQ history. The next year, the first gay pride parades were held on June 28, 1970, in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Fast Forward to the present day: homosexuality is still illegal in 60 countries and is still punishable by death in eight. In recent years, we’ve seen the enactment of numerous anti-LGBTQ laws, and hate crimes continue to rise. On November 19th, 2022, there was a shooting at Club Q, a popular gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, resulting in the death of five innocent patrons. Another senseless shooting occurred on June 12, 2016, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It turned out to be the worst mass shooting to date, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured.

Mental health struggles are a big issue among most young people these days, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Young LGBT people are more than two times as likely to have mental health issues than heterosexual people. Statistics from the Trever Project showed in 2022, 41% of young LGBT people considered attempting suicide, 67% experienced symptoms of anxiety, 54% experienced symptoms of depression, 64% of transgender and nonbinary people have experienced discrimination, and 18% experienced physical threat or harm.

I remember being teased and ridiculed from an early age, around 5th and 6th grade, because I “sounded like a girl” and “acted differently than the other boys.” My classmates would always ask me if I was gay, and I used to get really upset about it because my classmates made it sound like a bad thing. I came to the conclusion that I was transgender because I liked boys, just like girls did. So I thought that I had to be a girl because, for all I knew, only girls would like boys because, at the time, that was the norm. I was utterly confused between figuring out my own feelings and pressure from others. Why was this happening to me? I just wanted to be able to be myself and not have to worry. I just wanted to continue being a kid. I went through a period of confusion and depression. In middle school, I finally started discovering who I was and that I was just a boy who liked boys. People would still tease me and call me gay, but I started standing up for myself, and so did others. Finally, I started making other gay friends and found a safe space with my peers where I could just be myself.

The importance of LGBTQ rights affects many. In a workplace, if someone is uncomfortable and feels out of place, this can affect their efficiency. It can also affect their ability to be happy, make friends at work, and impact their mental health. Some people think same-sex marriage rights go against “traditional values,” which may be true in some communities. Still, most same sex families, especially with kids, are just as happy and welcoming as “traditional families”.

In conclusion, we are all equal in this world no matter who we are, what we look like, or how rich or poor we are. Discrimination against anyone is inexcusable and wrong. Everyone in this country and world needs to come together and stick up for what’s right and stop these witch hunts against LGBTQ people and other groups who are treated as less than. In the United States, we need to stop these anti-LGBTQ bills and create bills that protect people instead of discriminating against them. If we all took those transformative measures, everyone’s communities worldwide and in the United States would be a much safer and more inclusive environment.

The 4-Way Speech Contest was organized by Rotary’s Past District Governor, Jeff Krause, in conjunction with the Stratford Public Schools.  Rotarian Harold Watson was the master of ceremonies, with Rotarian Paul Tavares serving as the official timer.  The judging panel consisted of Stratford Rotarians, Attorney Lawrence Morizio, Probate Judge Max Rosenberg, Gary Jacopian, and Bridgeport Club Rotarian Crystal Engram, who also serves as a Rotary Assistant Governor.

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