The First Public Declamation of the School Year

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Ruth Shiferaw (I) stuns the judges declaiming “Yesterday I was African Today I Am Lost” by Takunda Muzondiwa (Photo by: Ruth Shiferaw (I))

By Darren Seto (III) and Ailin Sha (V)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Caroline Callum, an English 7 teacher, and Ms. Susan Harari, a Keefe Library Librarian, organized the first virtual Public Declamation of the school year last December.

Instead of performing on stage in front of a live audience, declaimers were selected via Zoom auditions and had their pre-recorded performances displayed to their peers during Extended Homeroom.

Ruth Shiferaw (I), first-place winner of the previous virtual Public Declamation, states, “This has been a different experience. In person, you are able to change your approach because you can see the audience and their reactions.”

Shiferaw performed the piece, “Yesterday I Was African, Today I Am Lost” by Takunda Mozundiwa. She says, “I chose this piece because I related to Muzondiwa’s story, especially having the pressure of wanting to look like those around you.”

Mrs. Callum, organizer of Public Declamation, explains that she misses the in-person experience of watching students declaim: “In the auditorium, [they can] command the space and show their oratorical skills at their maximum capacity.” In contrast, this year’s students are limited by unique circumstances that prevent them from experiencing the typical opportunities which Public Declamation presents.

Despite these challenges, a newfound benefit of virtual Declamation is the potential for students’ recordings to be stored in school archives.

Shiferaw shares her thoughts on this, stating, “I think it’s incredible that this is no longer a one-time event. Our recordings can be re-shared and replayed whenever the circumstances deem it necessary. I’m sure the other declaimers would agree that it’s fulfilling to know our performances won’t disappear; they can continually provide comfort or bring awareness, even days, weeks or months after the initial showing.”

Shiferaw has taken part in Public Declamation quarterly since the eighth grade. She urges other people to follow in her footsteps, stating, “If you have a message you want to share, try out for Public Declamation, you might open someone’s eye.”

Public Declamation is a long-revered tradition at Boston Latin School. Since the mid-1800s, four Public Declamations have taken place each year, with a special Prize Declamation taking place during the School’s Reunion Weekend. Given the circumstances of remote learning, it is unclear how the school will maintain this tradition throughout the remainder of the school year. Mrs. Callum and Ms. Harari, however, remain optimistic.

Ms. Harari states, “We are always looking for new people to try [Public Declamation], and for new pieces that we might not have heard before. Even though this is my first year [of being involved], I’ve been to [Public] Declamation many times […] and it’s always exciting to hear a piece that you’ve never heard before!”

Regardless of how Public Declamation proceeds this year, the long-revered tradition will remain an important part of BLS’s legacy.