It’s not surprising that public speaking is most people’s number one fear. Dry mouth, knocking knees and forgetting why you’re up there is enough to make you want to crawl into a hole – or under the podium.
Not so for 16-year-old Hannah Joy Coad, a sophomore at Classical Christian Academy in Post Falls, where she maintains a 4.0 grade point average. This weekend Coad is representing Idaho at the American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship competition at Purdue University in Indiana. The competition, in its 72nd year, is entitled “A Constitutional Speech Contest.”
Coad has been doing public speaking gigs since age 9. She was in the locally produced film, “Hind’s Feet on High Places,” which premiered in Spokane. For the event, she was asked to speak about the film, and she was hooked. She admits she’s not totally fearless – she still has butterflies before delivering a speech.
Coad will compete against 52 skilled orators for scholarships of $18,000, $16,000 and $14,000. She already has earned a $1,500 scholarship by making it to nationals, which moves up another $1,500 in the second round of competition.
The American Legion created the program to encourage youth to improve their communication skills and study the U.S. Constitution. Coad and her competition will first deliver original eight-minute speeches, without notes, in front of a live audience. As she advances, it’s possible she will have to give three more speeches of three to five minutes on various constitutional amendments.
David Ronald is her speech coach. He has worked with Coad since she joined her school’s debate team two years ago.
“We go a step further and use mechanisms to include persuasion,” Ronald said. He said his students speak in front of each other in class often, so they become comfortable with the idea.
“We work with different pathos and rhetoric in class,” Coad said. She said all communication is persuasive.
Her eight-minute speech is titled “A Citizen’s Duty as Defined by the Constitution.” In her speech she states that “the Constitution does not directly specify the obligations of a citizen to their government, but the responsibilities are more inherent and implied.” She stresses lawfulness, loyalty, the right and duty to vote, the responsibility to serve our country if called to do so, and to remember and learn the history and importance of the Constitution.
Watching Coad deliver the speech is like watching a much older soul in her tiny body. Her delivery is crisp and clean, and she doesn’t miss a beat. Classical ballet training has given her grace and poise. She has had practice delivering speeches to the Post Falls Kiwanis, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene Toastmasters and the American Legion Post 14 among others.
“I’ve been practicing and hope it goes well,” she said.
Coad’s journey began by winning locally at the Coeur d’Alene Post. From there she advanced to the district competition in Post Falls, area competition in Lewiston, then the state contest in Boise. The American Legion pays for her travel with one chaperone, her mother, Carolyn.
The third of five children, Coad was home-schooled until fourth-grade. The family moved to North Idaho 10 years ago when her father, Craig Coad, was transferred with a biomedical company. Coad’s 30-year-old brother, Noah Coad, is a computer engineer with Microsoft, designing new products for the company.
“He does public speaking for Microsoft – so he was an inspiration,” she said.
As far as her future, Coad wants to become a physician and also become active in politics. Math, science and rhetoric are her favorite subjects, but she also enjoys skiing, reading and playing the piano. She also dabbles in art and won the National Arbor Day Poster contest when she was in fifth-grade. This summer she plans to volunteer at Kootenai Medical Center and job shadow a physician.
This is the first time a contestant who began the journey in Coeur d’Alene has gone to nationals. The last time an Idahoan won the American Legion speech contest was in 1941 when former Idaho Sen. Frank Church was the winner.
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