Agnes Macphail Public Speaking contest winner.

‘Shy’ Grade 8 student’s speech on Me Too movement wins speaking contest

'I would hope Agnes Macphail feels that the future is in good hands with the younger generation,' said Maeve Pestonji

Maeve Pestonji, a Grade 8 student at St. Anselm Catholic School in East York,  didn’t expect to win the Agnes Macphail Public Speaking contest.

“I was surprised, but I’m thankful to have won the award,” she said. “It feels like an honour.”

The 13-year-old finished first in the 21st annual contest for her speech “Me Too: The Words that Changed Everything,” which she delivered Saturday at the East York Civic Centre.

“While we have taken a few baby steps forward, there is still a long way to go,” she said during her speech. “Instead of speaking over or ignoring the women, we need to listen and listen well. We need a justice system that does not put the victim on trial.”

Among the audience for the event were this year’s Agnes Macphail Award recipient, Carol Burtin Fripp; MP  Rob Oliphant; Councillor Janet Davis; and Maeve’s parents, Mehernosh Pestonji and Maureen Gallagher.

“We’re very proud of her,” said Maeve’s father. “She’s quite shy, so it’s a big step for her.”

Maeve, however, didn’t seem nervous as she delivered her speech.

“I think she was just relaxed because it was a celebration, so she seemed more confident today,” her dad said.

Noting that “it was going to be difficult to follow Maeve,” MP Rob Oliphant thanked her “for standing so strongly and proudly among us as a woman.”

“My sense is that Agnes Macphail would be pleased with what you said and the way you said it — with strength and dignity.”

Maeve became aware of Macphail’s legacy because of the speaking event and  considers her an inspiration.

“She (Agnes) wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in even though she was in the minority,” she said. “I would hope Agnes Macphail feels that the future is in good hands with the younger generation.”

During her free time, Maeve enjoys sports such as running, swimming, and soccer. She is an avid reader. Her favourite is the Harry Potter series, which she has re-read five times.

Maeve is also interested in politics and regularly listens to CBC Radio.

“We talk about politics a lot in our family, and we have CBC Radio on all the time, so I guess I got interested that way,” she said. “I’m always listening to the news about politics and current events.”

Maeve would like to be involved in political news. She hopes one day to be  part of The Insiders at the CBC.