Westwood public speaker wins Macphail Award

For Eden Bridge-Cook winning at public speaking was only a part of the objective.

“I’m very passionate about animals,” she said, “so I was happy to share (my views) with everybody.”

Eden, a Grade 6 student at Westwood Middle School, in East York, won the 2015 Agnes Macphail Award for her speech on factory farming at the 18th edition of the contest.

Agnes Macphail was a suffragist, humanitarian and animal-welfare advocate. She was also the first woman to be elected to the Ontario Legislature, where she served as MPP for East York. Before becoming a politician, Macphail was a teacher.

Contestants in the public speaking contest were students in Grades 6, 7 or 8 attending schools in East York; they had previously competed and won speaking contests at their schools. The students’ speeches dealt with stigma surrounding mental illness, sexual assault and societal pressures.

Bob Lister, who co-received the Agnes Macphail Award with his wife Lis in 1998, served as the MC during the evening.

“We call it a competition, but really it’s a celebration,” Lister said.

The Listers have been co-ordinating the contest since they won it and agree that the purpose of the event is to celebrate the principles by which Agnes Macphail lived.

“She was a rebel. She was somebody who stood up for her passions and what’s what we want (the students) to do,” Lis Lister said.

She also pointed out that the contest offers the student contestants a great learning experience; it fosters their “growth and development” and it gives them confidence.

For Meghan Mackye, of G.A. Brown Middle School, a speaking contest is not the kind of competition she normally joins. Meghan is a soccer player in Grade 7 and gave a speech on the value of competitive sports. Meghan describes herself as shy and said that public speaking was a “first time thing.” Despite the novelty, however, Meghan said she enjoyed the experience.

“It was nice for me to do because it was really open,” she said.

For this year’s winner, Eden Bridge-Cook, the event was all about the speech content and dealing with the stress.

“It was really nerve wracking, but I was having a good time,” she said.