Student places second in national speech contest

Olivia Grubbs

By Celine Klosterman

DAVENPORT — You wouldn’t know Olivia Grubbs gets nervous.

“She looks very comfortable in front of a crowd,” says Kelli Grubbs, despite her seventh-grade daughter’s insistence that she always gets butterflies before giving a speech.

A few judges recently gave her a vote of confidence, too. They chose her as the second-place winner at the national level of this year’s Modern Woodmen of America School Speech Contest. More than 101,000 students took part in the contest at some level and 23, including Olivia, advanced to the national competition, according to the fraternal benefits society.

“I was extremely surprised and excited,” said Olivia, who was told the good news two weekends ago. She took part in the competition through John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport, which requires all fifth- to eighth-graders to participate in a civic oration program.


Principal Chad Steimle said that in the eight years he’s been principal, two other JFK students advanced to the national level, but Olivia was the first to place.

“She has a charisma about her when she’s in the classroom,” said Paula Schmitt, the sixth-grade teacher who oversaw Olivia’s speech work. She also praised the emotion in the student’s presentation about Jerry Galloway, a late friend of her grandma who spent about 20 years as a missionary and doctor in Africa.

 “Olivia’s a clear leader. She works really hard academically so I knew she’d probably be one of the top (presenters) in sixth grade.”

After three rounds of competition against JFK fifth- and sixth-graders, Olivia advanced to a district competition in Rock Island, Ill. She said she placed first out of about 12 students in that contest, then placed first out of 14 in a regional competition. Videotapes of her and other competitors’ speeches then went to four judges — two college professors and two retired speech teachers — who evaluated Olivia this month on material organization, delivery and presentation and overall effectiveness.

Modern Woodmen doesn’t release judges’ comments, but “Olivia clearly shined in all areas to be chosen as the second-place winner overall,” said Kim Woodward, corporate communications specialist.

The student’s prizes include a $1,500 savings plan and a plaque. 

Grubbs called her daughter’s performance a testament to the “fantastic job” JFK teachers do with the school’s civic oration program. “It teaches the kids so much about research, writing and speaking,” she said.

Schmitt hopes other students will be inspired by Olivia, who also enjoys language and social studies classes, cheerleading, volleyball and basketball. “She worked so hard on that speech and had a good attitude throughout the whole process.

“We all saw it in her.”

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