Houghton HS junior wins speech contest

Christie Mastric/For the Mining Gazette Ian Evans, a junior at Houghton High School, reacts after learning he is the winner of the Fifth Annual Tom Baldini Soapbox Challenge. The event took place Monday in Kaufman Auditorium, Marquette. Also pictured are some of the finalists: Jazzy Kuehnl, far left, Sara Neva, second from left; and Shea Arney, far right.

MARQUETTE — Ian Evans, a junior at Houghton High School, is the winner of the Fifth Annual Tom Baldini Soapbox Challenge, which took place at Kaufman Auditorium on Monday.

The youth-driven civic engagement event called on students to speak out on issues that affect them and their communities.

Evans’ topic was “Equality and Acceptance,” with the student focusing on LGBT rights.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Evans said after his name was announced. “I didn’t think anything I had to say would get me anywhere.”

His win proved otherwise.

“I guess it did,” Evans said.

In his speech, he related his story of students who cut across his path, which caused the students behind him to stop. Unfortunately, he was called a derogatory name as a result.

“I wish I could say the ideas behind that language are few and far between, but they’re not,” Evans said. “These prejudices are nationwide and stem from the same lack of education and awareness, all while hurting and even killing real people.”

He addressed the taboo of being — and even mentioning — the word “gay,” and pointed out that this taboo is similar to serious crimes such as rape and murder.

“These aren’t topics you discuss with children,” Evans said. “They’re for hushed-voice adult conversations.”

Without even knowing what it is, this treatment of the topic teaches kids that it involves evil acts, he said.

“When the LGBT community is treated in the same way, homophobia and transphobia develop in children, and those negative feelings will only grow with age,” Evans said.

The event honors the legacy of the late Tom Baldini, a former educator at Marquette Area Public Schools and a longtime area politician and public servant who made an impact at the local, state and national levels. Baldini also was mayor of Marquette.

“He served in so many different capacities,” said Blythe Raikko, a teacher at Marquette Senior High School. “He was a civil servant who never wanted the spotlight on him.”

Monday’s event, she said, served to promote civil activism, problem-solving and making the world a better place.

“We’re living in a difficult time where there’s a lot of issues and a lot of problems,” Raikko said.

At the Soapbox Challenge, students addressed the question: “What is the most pressing issue facing young people today, why is it important and what should be done to address it?”

To qualify for the event, finalists were selected from over 500 competitors who researched, composed and delivered original speeches in the classes of Tiffany Nicholas, Kim Stadt, Aaron Lancour, Kris O’Connor and Raikko. Judges were community leaders who evaluated the content, delivery and style of the students’ original speeches, which were about 2 to 3 minutes long.

Schools represented in the Soapbox Challenge were Marquette Senior High School, Negaunee Middle School and Houghton High School.

Evans will visit Washington, D.C., in June for a three-day event that involves listening and presenting the soapbox speech, a civic showcase and meeting Congressional staffers to talk about the youth’s specific issues.

Priya Morey, who spoke about “Finding our Value,” won the student choice award. Other finalists and their topics were: Anna Rayhorn, “Gun Safety Laws”; Anna Melka, “Women’s Right to Choose”; Chloe Wommer, “Homophobia”; Jazzy Kuehnl, “Respectful Psychiatric Rehab”; Sara Neva, “Screen Addiction”; Kylie Johnson, “Reproductive Rights”; Shea Arney, “Mental Health in Teens”; and Lily Dixon, “Gun Control.”

The organizational group behind the Soapbox Challenge is the About Mikva Challenge, based in Chicago. Mikva Challenge is a nonpartisan organization that, according to its website at mikvachallenge.org, “develops youth to be empowered, informed and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society.” Youth are invited to take part in real-life democratic activities to be informed citizens and leaders.


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