District Speech Contest winner shows that sleepwalking is normal

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Donald Young School student Reece Wiersema won the intermediate division in this year’s Rainy River District Speech Contest for her speech on sleepwalking, a topic she says she relates to.

The contest is an opportunity for students to further develop their research, writing, editing, and public speaking skills as they deliver speeches based on their personal interests.

Students first presented their speeches to their classes, where speeches were evaluated by teachers and classmates, and then at the school level, with a panel of judges selecting candidates to attend the District Speech Contest.

Wiersema, 12, says she feels excited to be this year’s winner.

“I’m happy that I got so far with my speech,” she said. “It’s just exciting.”

The idea to speak about sleepwalking came naturally because it was a topic she could relate to, especially coming from a family of sleepwalkers.

“My mom suggested to me to do a speech on sleepwalking because my brother and my dad both sleepwalk,” she said. “It’s a normal thing that lots of people do.”

Wiersema persuaded her audience that the phenomenon is quite normal by telling stories about her family’s experience.

“I had asked my mom for stories about my brother and my dad’s sleep walking. And I’d have them written down, and then I would find some information on it, and then kind of put it all together. And then I tried to memorize it,” she said.

Her dad was once sleepwalking but didn’t remember anything when he woke up, Wiersema says, telling one of the stories from her speech.

“I’ve seen my dad sleepwalk once,” she said. “We were eating breakfast and he poked his head out the door. And so we told them to go back to bed. And I don’t think he remembered it.”

Wiersema says she felt a little nervous presenting in front of the panel of judges, but her parents gave her the confidence to do her best.

“There was a lot of really good speeches there, so I didn’t really know how I was gonna do,” she said. “My parents were just telling me, ‘It’s all for fun. You’ve got this far.’ That it’s still amazing that I had got that far.”

A total of nine students presented at the intermediate division for a range of topics such as “Why Powwows are Healing,” “Having a Sense of Humour,” or “Living with Depression.”

Most of the contestants were from Fort Frances Intermediate School, two were from Donald Young School, two were from Crossroads, and one was from Mine Centre School.

Providing a tip to someone who wants to learn how to memorize things better, Wiersema suggests using cue cards and consistent practice.

“I just read over it and read over it and read over it until I’ve got it memorized. And then I tried doing it without the cue cards, or just glancing down at it every little bit,” she said, adding that it took a couple days to memorize everything.

Thinking ahead about what topic she might like to do at next year’s speech contest, Wiersema hinted that she may speak about something she’s afraid of.

“Maybe I don’t like goats,” she said. “When I was little, we were at the fair and I was wearing a green dress. And I was just little — my parents told me the story — and a goat reached out and bit my arm.”

The District contest took place on May 11, 2023, at J.W. Walker School with judges Tammy Ryll, Dianne Debenedet, and Wayne Barron. Two winners were selected in total, one from the junior divison, and one from the intermediate.

Maelle Easton, from J.W. Walker School, speaking on “Ocean Pollution” won the Junior Division Speech Contest which had a total of 11 speakers from schools across the Rainy River District School Board.

12-year-old Donald Young School student Reece Wiersema (left) presents her speech on sleepwalking to the Rainy River district School Board of trustees on June 6, 2023, including student trustee Charles Watts (right). Wiersema won the intermediate division in this year’s Rainy River District Speech Contest. -Microsoft Teams screenshot