A sunny April 11, 2010, brought more than 60 students from 7 high schools in Indiana and Illinois to the Valparaiso University campus for a Second Annual Valparaiso University Chinese Speech Contest, which was co-sponsored by the MA in Chinese Studies program and the Confucius Institute at Valparaiso University. The 7 schools were Illinois Math and Science Academy, Northridge High School, Rochester High School, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Naperville North High School, Culver Academies, and Brownsburg High School. Apart from contestants, 7 Chinese language teachers at these schools and two dozen parents were also present at this event. A few other high schools, such as Concord High School, even sent their teachers to observe the contest as a preparation for their possible participation in next year’s competition. The warm weather and the encouraging, although a bit contending, atmosphere pushed the students’ zeal to learn the Chinese language to a new high.
As Dr. Renu Juneja, Valparaiso University’s associate provost and professor of English, put it in her opening remarks, these student-contestants had made a good choice and were standing to gain an advantage when they decided to study the Chinese language and culture: “I commend you all for your far-sightedness in learning Chinese.” She went on saying: “The Middle Kingdom has always been important to the world civilization. But today, with the global importance that China has taken on both in economics and other ways, you’re actually going to be much ahead of the crowd—the rest of the world.” She expressed her hope that the annual event will become an important milestone for the participants that they “would be looking forward to saying this is the 15th annual, the 30th annual of the date when I competed at the Chinese speech contest at Valpo.”
The contest was divided into two levels: Level One was for students who’d studied Chinese for one or two years, and Level Two, for students who’d studied Chinese for more than two years. In the competition at Level One, contestants formed a group of two or three to perform a dialogue on a subject common in daily life—life in the dorm, ordering food, finding street numbers, meeting friends, having a Chinese class, shopping, dating, and so on. Set in such scenarios, the contestants demonstrated, to the best of their skill and knowledge of the Chinese language and culture, how they could make themselves understood and achieve their purposes. Level Two contestants presented individual speeches on what learning Chinese in a US school meant to them. Their speeches highlighted their drive and commitment to study the Chinese language and demonstrated how advantageous they were as a result of commanding it. Whereas the former was a bit fun, situational, and encouraging to those who would wish to have a go at this language, the latter, centered on the topic How I Learn Chinese in America, revealed how well one could master one of the most fascinating, and allegedly difficult as well, languages in the world. Their contents of speech, their styles of delivery, and their experiences all set the audience all the more admiring, and encouraged by, their achievements.
Organized by Professor Benjamin Ridgway of the MACS program, judged by three experienced Chinese language teachers, WANG Yueqin and HE Jun, both CIVU teachers from Zhejiang University of Technology, and Beverley Wu of Clay High School, the speech contest gave the contestants a great opportunity to show how capable they were of using Chinese in practical scenarios and on complex topics, to learn from each other through a good-will competition, and to share the excitement knowing that so many of them were engaged in the same endeavor. Applause mixed with laughter could be heard throughout the event.
After three and a half hours of heated competition, William Getz from Illinois Math and Science Academy won the first prize, Trace Ostergren from Culver Academy won the second prize, Byambadelger Batmagnai from Naperville North High School, Katrina Pieri from Northridge High School, and Roberto C. Aguillon from Benito Juarez Community Academy won the third, fourth and fifth prizes at the Level Two contest. Students from Naperville North High School, Northridge High School, and Benito Jaurez Community Academy won prizes at the Level One competition.
During the intermissions, two visiting Chinese music teachers, LIU Xiangyun and GAO Wenwen from the Jiangsu Performing Group, performed Chinese music for the audience. VU’s nascent Chinese music ensemble also played Chinese songs. Prof. Jianyun Meng, Director of the CIVU, alternated between directing the ensemble and playing the Erhu, much to the delight of the audience.
As contestants said goodbyes to each other, to the faculty, staff, and student volunteers from Valpo, one thing seemed clear: with more students embarked on learning the Chinese language and culture, there will be more contestants from area high schools to compete at the annual speech contest. No sooner had the event ended than the organizers of the event already began talking about reserving a larger space, possibly one of the ball rooms in the Harre Union of Valparaiso University to accommodate what is expected to be an even larger group of contestants for next year’s Chinese speech contest.