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Girls show themselves as superheroes

14th February 2020

There is no doubt that the Rotary Youth Speaks 2020 Zone Final in Witney was one of the closest finals in which we have been involved. Whilst not fully victorious, we were winners in our own right for the team of Tillie, Sophie, and Anu truly grew in stature as their performance was increasingly, warmly received. Their dry wit, engagingly and creatively researched and presented material, with edgy examples and challenging stereotypes, stood out as different in a relatively dry evening of impressive yet worthy debates. Competing against Year 13 students, these Upper Transits and Shell girls (Years 10 and 11) more than held their own – they impressed.

With topics ranging from houses believing that they would banish the monarchy, ban palm oil production, ban capital punishment, (yes, that’s a lot of banning), make creative subjects mandatory and insist a prison’s primary purpose should be retribution, the audience was finally met with something completely different when the Wychwood girls stood up to consider that superheroes might – or might not – be a bad influence on children. The tone in the room changed and, as the judges remarked, the element of humour brought the audience with them. Everyone was engaged, and on both sides of the debate.

Ably managed by Chair Tilli, Proposer Sophie’s hilarious deconstruction of iron man being a chemical impossibility on account of the weight of his suit, his propensity to rust and, frankly, the inadequacy of his burning thrusters given his chemical makeup encouraged the audience; Opposer Anu’s amusing rendition of Captain America’s well timed punch during the Second World War brought them on. The light and shade in the speeches was excellent. This wasn’t flippant humour, this was balanced, reflective and illuminating humour to balance personal and thoughtful reflections on both sides of the argument.

It should be said that rarely has a team been so nervous in advance of competing; clearly the prospect of answering a question after performing two five minute speeches to a rigorous competitive debate format is a little disconcerting for all the competitors, and who can blame that? There is no doubt however that Anu answered her question, on the classical and biblical superheroes of old, with aplomb.

But it wasn’t just the question that was an issue. It was the growing awareness, as the evening unfolded, that their speech was different that was unnerving for the girls, and this is why they were ultimately our winners. They dared to be different; they dared to be amusing; they actually dared to be themselves.

A Wychwood girl is different to every other girl in the school because really there is no such thing as a Wychwood girl – the school is made up of individuals, each unique in her own right and this team exemplified that. They were different; they were brave; they were funny and they finally, truly came to believe that of themselves.

As the judges said, it was ‘an absolute privilege’ to experience ‘the fascinating range of debates’, and ‘the calibre of the young people was phenomenal’. If the Wychwood team offered two thoroughly well researched speeches on the value or not of Superheroes, then these girls were our superheroes and we were truly proud of them as they grew to become proud of themselves. Nerves? What nerves? They found the heroes inside themselves and that is a winning life lesson.