By Shimzara Zakariya
As our moderator Saeedha Nazar beautifully put it, the stage was set for the grand day and it all came down to the five stupendous speakers, one final contest, and one glorious title.
Speech Olympiad, happening consecutively for the 14th superlative time, is the premier intra-university speech contest which celebrates the oratory talents of the undergraduates of University of Moratuwa.
The phenomenal Speech Olympiad has been and continues to be a gradual life changing journey of growth and self-discovery while nurturing the speaker in many.
The contest consists of three stages, namely the Preliminaries which consist of a prepared speech contest, the Semi-finals, and the Finals which consist of both prepared and impromptu speech contests.
This year, Speech Olympiad received a record-breaking number of seventy-eight submissions for the preliminary round. The twelve out of seventy-eight contestants filtered as semi-finalists competed virtually on the 10th of October, 2021 out of whom the chosen five finalists emerged.
The Finals of Speech Olympiad XIV was conducted on Zoom and publicly went live on Facebook on the 14th of November, 2021.
Preparations for the grand event began weeks before the event. The organizing committee, the finalists, and their mentors spent hours and hours on various Zoom sessions to groom their speeches to perfection. Past President Merl Chandana conducted a session to provide feedback and tips on improving the contestants’ prepared speeches. Our very own Vice-President – Education, Dulmi Fonseka, Past VP – Education, Hasini Abeywickrama, and Toastmaster Jagath Wickramasekara of IESL Toastmasters’ Club, conducted sessions to prepare the contestants for the impromptu speech round. Toastmaster Yasir, a former champion of Speech Olympiad, conducted a session to provide feedback for the prepared speeches. The contestants had briefing sessions, a session with the Chief Judge himself, and technical sessions to help them set up for the virtual contest among many others.
After weeks of preparation, finally the much awaited day of the finals dawned. As planned before, to ensure the smooth flow of the event, the moderators and relevant role players met up at a predetermined venue. After over a year of virtual Gavel meetings, the Gaveliers were ecstatic to meet each other in person. So much so, that a generally quiet co-working space was filled with the excited babble of the Gavel family. The physical attendees were treated to a delicious chicken biryani for lunch, followed by a scrumptious watalappan for dessert. The virtual role-players joined the zoom meeting about an hour prior to the event, and everyone settled down and prepared themselves for the event. The most admirable thing about all the role players was how every single one of them took their roles seriously and was determined to execute it to perfection.
Saeedha’s introduction to the event was followed by a video. A video only too relatable to anyone who has attempted the mammoth task of writing a speech. A video that was created over an entire night, starring our very own project Co-Chair, Kavishka Cooray. With the perfectionist Gavel President and meticulous director Thushara Gunawardhana in charge, there were so many takes for each scene of the video, that by the end of it, Kavishka had pretty much lost his appetite for apples. Everyone involved had passed out from exhaustion by dawn.
The national anthem was played, following which Saeedha explained the procedure for voting via the live poll happening during the speech contest to elect the “Most Popular Speaker”. With that the much awaited prepared speech round of the finals began.
The speaking order was determined prior to the contest by means of drawing lots, and the order was common to both the prepared and impromptu rounds.
The five contestants as per their speaking order were:
- Selani Indrapala
- Shehan Paul
- Niruthikka Sritharan
- Nathasha Silva
- Dineth Wijayasekara
Selani Indrapala, in her inspiring speech titled “Let It Settle”, spoke on how not to give room for self-doubt because of others’ comments but rather, “let it settle”.
Shehan Paul, in his emotional yet powerful speech titled “Know Your Limits”, spoke about breaking the limits set by others and ourselves because we are all “limitless”.
Niruthikka Sritharan, in her eloquent speech titled “Play The Game”, compared life to a game that needs to be played and how the obstacles and challenges we face in life only strengthen our characters.
Nathasha Silva, in her thought-provoking yet captivating speech, “A Wrong Judgment”, emphasized the importance of looking beyond what one sees before coming to conclusions.
The final prepared speech of the day was by Dineth Wijayasekara. In his speech titled “Build The Trust Before The House”, he spoke of the value of trust in any relationship as he compared it to the glue that reinforces a house and keeps it upright.
As the intensely fiery prepared speech round reached its conclusion, the 5 finalists, the judges and the relevant roleplayers joined a separate zoom meeting where the impromptu speech round was conducted to perfection.
In the live session, control was handed back to Saeedha Nazar. She appreciated the speakers for their phenomenal prepared speeches and called upon Mr. Peter D’Almeida, the keynote speaker for the day.
A video was played to introduce the renowned actor and director, who is well-known for his powerfully social conscious activism and rhetoric. He has over 25 years of experience as a change-driving leader in the Sri Lankan IT industry. In his speech, he made sure to compliment the five finalists. He also pointed out the necessity for speakers with more accountability for our community and country. He emphasized on the importance of speakers who wouldn’t just stop at what they say, but would take the initiative to go beyond mere words and start doing what they say. He offered very insightful advice to all the young undergraduates in the audience.
To forever reminisce the remarkable journey of Speech Olympiad XIV, the official souvenir, “The Orator” was created. The dedication put in by our Assistant Secretary, Amri Nazeer and the souvenir team to get the souvenir ready within a span of 3 weeks was truly commendable. Every section was written, edited, and proofread with much care and precision. Thanks to all their hard work, the e-souvenir was launched virtually at the event.
Mr, Chathura Ganegoda, Head of Customer Development Excellence at Unilever Sri Lanka was present at the occasion representing Unilever Sri Lanka, the strategic partner and sponsor of Speech Olympiad XIV. He spoke of the value in leaving a legacy on behalf of the local community we live in, adding to Mr. Peter D’Almeida‘s words.
Saeedha thanked him for gracing the occasion and also expressed gratitude to Unilever Sri Lanka on behalf of the Gavel Club of University of Moratuwa for their immense support in our club endeavors.
Then, a video was played honouring all 78 contestants who took part in the competition including the key messages of their speeches that they wanted to share with the world.
The recording of the impromptu session that was conducted in the other zoom meeting was then broadcast to the virtual audience. Madhushika Munasinghe, Madam Contest Chair for the Impromptu Round, took control of the event. The title given to the speakers for the impromptu round was “Red Light, Green Light”.
Selani Indrapala narrated an inspiring story of how swimming turned out to be a red light in her life, and drama, a green light! “Stop at red lights in life and pursue a different path with green lights”, she conveyed.
Shehan Paul urged everyone to never stop at red lights in life but to go forth till they find the green light. He narrated yet another beautiful and emotional story of how he never gave up even when he had to travel for six hours everyday back and forth from school because of his financial circumstances which got him into the prestigious university he is in today.
Niruthikka Sritharan then gave a powerful message to the audience. She said, “in life, when you have a destination, the road to it will have both red and green lights. When it’s a green light, yayy! Way to go. When it’s red, it’s okay, it’s going to turn green soon. Don’t lose faith in your dreams. With your vision fixed, red light or green light, it doesn’t matter, you can just surge ahead.”
Nathasha Silva, in her impactful speech said, “Things don’t always happen in the same way you want them to. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. When you find the red light, you need to pay attention because it’s never going to remain red there. At some point, it will turn green again.”
Dineth Wijayasekara, the final eloquent speaker, related how the substitute player in his badminton team who played instead of the sick vice captain managed to beat the opponent team’s captain, surprising everyone. “Don’t give up because after every red light, a green light follows, even though it might take some time”, said Dineth.
A video was then played appreciating the alumni who provided mentorships and guidance to the contestants.
Then, while the scores were being finalized by the judges and the tally counters, Saeedha hosted an interview with the talented finalists to find out about the other side of the stories that were told. Much to everyone’s awe, the contestants shared their own personal emotions and insecurities, proving that all the speeches were a hundred percent authentic and heartfelt. They also had words of inspiration to aspiring speakers in the audience.
The Honourable Chief Judge and Distinguished Toastmaster, Piyakara Jayarathne was then invited to address the gathering and relate his experiences regarding Speech Olympiad XIV. The Chief Judge said that he had brought in a total of 27 judges to filter the best speaker from the 78 amazing speakers who participated in the preliminaries at different levels of the speech contest. Having been a judge at past Speech Olympiad contests, he noted how the overall standard of the speeches and the contest had improved significantly. He expressed his appreciation to President Dinidu Edirisighe and the Organizing Committee for the hard work put in towards the contest. He also made it a point to appreciate all the contestants who took part in the contest by saying that they were all great speakers. He also emphasized the importance of developing soft skills to undergraduates.
Then, it was time for the most awaited moment of the day. Jayoda Dissanayake, the Champion of Speech Olympiad XIII herself, announced the winners whose names would be remembered by the Gaveliers for many more years to come.
With overwhelming support from her friends and loved ones, Niruthikka Sritharan secured the “Most Popular Speaker” award with the highest number of votes.
Proving that he is indeed “limitless”, Shehan Paul was awarded the “Best Prepared Speaker”.
With her quick thinking and nimble wit, Niruthikka won the title of the “Best Impromptu Speaker” as well.
Selani Indrapala was awarded as “The Second Runner Up”. Kudos to Selani for taking the courage to compete and for emerging victorious while being in her very first semester at the university.
The final registrant of the competition, Shehan Paul, was awarded “The First Runner Up” title, proving that it is indeed better late than never.
And finally, the rise of the new champion, the grand-title holder was announced, stopping the hearts of the audience for a moment, and the name was, Niruthikka Sritharan. After her spectacular win as the Most Popular Speaker, Best Impromptu Speaker and the Champion of Speech Olympiad XIV, she shared her thoughts with us, beaming with joy, thanking each and every one who helped her come this far.
To mark the end of an eventful evening, Nirodha Sandaruwan, Co-Chair of Speech Olympiad XIV delivered the vote of thanks, and the 14th glorious chapter of Speech Olympiad thus reached its end. With cheers and high-fives, the celebratory din began. The virtual role-players joined in the commotion as well, and many many pictures were taken as memoirs of an unforgettable and exhilarating event. To relax and unwind, the team went out for dinner, where the Co-Chairs did the traditional vote of thanks in Sinhalese.
Heartiest congratulations goes out to the winners of Speech Olympiad XIV for their well-deserved success and a big shout-out to all the amazingly talented contestants who had the courage to share their stories with the world.
Much appreciation goes to all the role players at the Finals of Speech Olympiad XIV who put in a lot of diligent effort to ensure that every little detail of the contest went smoothly and gracefully.
The Project Co-Chairs, Kavishka Cooray and Nirodha Sandaruwan, along with President Dinidu Edirisinghe, other Board Members and the Organizing Committee of Speech Olympiad XIV should all be commended for their untiring efforts over a period of five months to ensure that the contest was a tremendous success. And a success, it was!
Kudos to the wonderful team and all the talented speakers. May the legacy live on for many years to come.