Meet the young finalists of the Agnes Macphail Public Speaking Contest

Hayden, Cassie, Clare and Athena talk favourite subjects and overcoming stage fright.

The Observer sat down last week with four of the eight students heading to the finals in the annual Agnes Macphail Public Speaking Contest, which is taking place tomorrow, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. in the True Davidson Council Chambers of the East York Civic Centre, 850 Coxwell Ave.

Hayden Landolt
Hayden Landolt (Scout McCraw)

Hayden Landolt
Age: 13
Grade: 8
School: Westwood Middle School
Favourite subject(s): Music, History
Speech Topic: Wage gaps between CEOs and mid-level employees

Hayden’s Scottish culture is a very big part of who he is. Much of his spare time is spent practising the bagpipes and playing with the Toronto Black Watch Association Pipes and Drums. He even wore a tie with his family tartan when he contested the semi-finals of the speaking contest. And he is auditioning for the 48th Highlanders of Canada. “My life is pretty much dominated by anything to do with Scotland,” he said.

Cassie Sidebottom
Cassie Sidebottom (Scout McCraw)

Cassie Sidebottom
Age: 14
Grade: 8
School: Westwood Middle School
Favourite subject(s): History, Gym
Speech Topic: Physician-assisted death

Cassie’s topic comes from a very personal place. “My father was ill and passed away a couple years ago,” she said, “I had to watch him suffer.” Cassie then saw that it was a big issue in the news, that there were people for and people against doctor-assisted death. She says that she supports the concept, and wants to make a contribution toward moving the idea forward. When asked if it is hard to speak so publicly about something so personal, Cassie says that she has learned to live with it. “If you get upset every time you talk about it, it won’t make anything better,” she said.

Clare Lue Tam
Clare Lue Tam (Scout McCraw)

Clare Lue Tam
Age: 12
Grade: 7
School: Holy Cross Catholic School
Favourite subject(s): Language
Speech Topic: The treatment of people with developmental disabilities

It’s like-mother-like-daughter for Clare when it comes to compassion for the disabled. She got the idea for the topic from a news article and says she had a lot of good information — because her mother is a life skills teacher and works with students with disabilities. Clare says that she was initially a little nervous about speaking in front of everybody, but she doles out some pretty sage advice on overcoming stage fright. “Imagine that you’re not in a competition,” she said. “You just want these people to know how important this topic is.”

Athena Gonzales
Athena Gonzales (Scout McCraw)

Athena Gonzales
Age: 12
Grade: 7
School: Holy Cross Catholic School
Favourite subject(s): Language, Gym
Speech Topic: The achievement and importance of voting rights for women

Athena is a girl with a voice to be heard — and it’s only going to get louder. “As a young girl growing up into a woman and someday having a chance to vote,” she said, “I feel the need to express the importance of women’s opinions and thoughts.” And what does Athena do about nerves? “It’s important to say what I need to say and I think about the good things that will come afterwards,” she said. “Just do your best and most importantly, have fun.”

Hayden, Cassie, Clare and Athena will compete in the finals against two students from Saint Brigid Catholic School and two students from Saint Anselm Catholic School. Admission to the event is free, and free parking is available tomorrow night in the civic centre staff parking lot, off Mortimer Avenue.