Troy student moves on in oratorical competition

Troy Junior High School eighth grade student Caroline Rohlfs is moving on to the statewide level of the Optimist Oratorical Competition. Last year, Rohlfs placed third at state.

TROY—When preparing for some of the most-intense oratorical competitions in the state, Troy Junior High School student Caroline Rohlfs makes sure she practices in front of a tough crowd.

And she doesn’t have to look far to find it.

“Well actually, originally, I didn’t want to practice in front of my family because the first year it was, I wouldn’t say embarrassing, but these speeches are very heartfelt and especially when you involve it with a family in the speech, you will kind of want to surprise them,” Rohlfs said. “So it took me a while to open up and want to actually say it to them before competitions.”

Not only would Rohlfs learn to give well-composed, moving speeches in front of her family, she would also learn how to give them in front of Optimist Oratorical competition judges and rooms filled with complete strangers.

As a result, for the second year in a row, the eighth-grader will be headed back to Ohio’s District Oratorical Contest. She’ll compete April 29 in Dublin. Last year, despite being one of the youngest speakers in the competition and facing older, more-seasoned contestants – most of her competitors were high school students – she placed third.

Rohlfs is hoping this year she can improve upon that finish and, if she wins, move on to the national competition in Saint Louis. The winner in Saint Louis will move on to the world championships.

“I’m really excited to be able to go back again because last year, it was an awesome experience for me because I was able to compete against these older high schoolers that I never thought I’d be able to, and it was really exciting for me to share what I wrote,” Rohlfs said.

Much like last year, Rohlfs’ journey to the statewide competition has been a long one. She first competed at the school level, then moved on to the Troy Noon Optimists club competition. She and Troy High School senior Savannah Swanson were selected as the top two at the club competition, allowing them to move on to the zone competition. Once again, She and Swanson were selected as the top two, allowing them to move on to the regional competition. Last week, Rohlfs was again able to earn a trip to the district competition.

It’s been a remarkable experience for a student who never envisioned herself as a public speaker, and didn’t consider entering the contest until one of her teachers suggested it.

“So my 7th grade language arts teacher, Mrs. (Laura) Rainer, she inspired me to join this when I heard it on the announcements,” Rohlfs said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to because I never thought I’d be one to public speak, but she said that I have a gift that I should use, and so I told myself that I should join and I just did after school.”

Each year, all contestants are given a different topic; this year’s is “Discovering the Optimism Within Me.” They not only write their speech, but also must memorize it and learn to present it in front of an audience within a set time frame.

“So after Christmas break, in early January, after school practices start and they tell us to just write a speech and they give us the topic, “ Rohlfs said. “This year it was, ‘Discovering the Optimism Within Me.’ And so then we basically have maybe three weeks to a month to have a good rough draft written and then from there, we just start memorizing it at our own pace, whatever works best for us and using our own methods to memorize. And then from there, what I did is I go paragraph-by-paragraph and just start practicing it in front of people after school.”

Much of that time practicing after school is spent with Troy Junior High School language arts teachers Angela Clouser and Jennifer Karnehm, who help all of Troy’s contestants with their speeches. Contestants are judged not only on the content of their speeches, but their ability to effectively present those speeches to an audience.

“So it’s kind of breaking it down step by step,” Rohlfs said. “You have to work on your volume and the pitch and everything has to be down to the details. The pauses are what I focused on mostly. Pausing at the end of each sentence and counting the one, two, three, and just emphasizing what needs to be emphasized and really acting like you’re hearing the words for the first time is how I did it.”

In a 2017 poll by the Washington Post, public speaking was ranked America’s No. 1 fear. That hasn’t been much of a problem for Rohlfs, however.

“So I trust in myself that I know my speech and I’m not worried about the actual presentation when I’m up there, “ Rohlfs said. “But it’s almost the adrenaline beforehand when seeing my competition or just, I don’t know, getting my head about it makes me nervous sometimes, but usually it’s not too bad.”

Rohlfs said she hasn’t yet decided if she’ll continue entering oratorical competitions when gets to Troy High School next year – it takes up a lot of her time and she’s involved in a number of sports and other activities, she said – but even if she doesn’t, she’s learned valuable skills from the experience she hopes to carry with her into the future.

“I mean, speaking in general, I would definitely stick with,” she said. “It might be something in my future too. But high school, I don’t know if I’ll have time to do Optimist Oratorical, but I love speech. It really helps with my communication skills at school because I haven’t always been as bubbly and open and this has helped me realize that not everything has to be academic. Socially, it matters too, and encouraging other people with optimistic things, obviously.”