Public speaking is more than a tradition at Fay—it’s a community value. From the earliest years, each Fay student learns that they make a unique contribution when they share their thoughts and ideas with clarity and persuasion.
In Primary School, students are encouraged to stand up and present their work in class, share their perspectives during Morning Meeting, and make announcements at lunch. In Lower School, Fay’s formal public speaking begins in third grade, when students start writing and delivering a speech each year in front of classmates and family.
By Upper School, students are ready to compete in the Speech Contest. Each year, the students write and deliver a speech in their English class, and the best speeches from each class are chosen to move onto the next round. The Upper School Speech Final is a true highlight of the school year, and without fail, the audience is inspired by the passion, thoughtfulness, character, and diverse perspectives represented in the final speeches. A panel of faculty judges selects the winner of the speech competition, who receives the Choate Public Speaking Award at Prize Day.
The impact of the public speaking program for students lasts well beyond their time at Fay. Fay graduates have the confidence to speak their mind, the poise to craft and deliver a compelling argument, and the confidence that their perspective has value. We reached out to previous Choate Award winners, and in the following pages, they reflect on the lessons learned and the lasting impact of Fay’s public speaking program in their lives.
A Guiding Moment: Nilufer Gulal ’17
2017 Choate Public Speaking Award
When Nilufer Gulal recalls her time at Fay, she mentions her teachers, advisor, and peers, and she talks about the many friendships that are still going strong after graduation. When she first arrived at Fay from Bursa, in northwest Turkey, Nilufer knew that her time in a New England boarding school would change her, but she did not realize how much.
The single most pivotal moment for Nilufer during her time at Fay was the 2017 Speech Contest. Having grown in confidence and skill with English by that point, Nilufer knew it was time to educate the community on an issue that was deeply important to her: women’s rights, especially those of Middle Eastern women.
“It was the guiding moment of my academic life,” Nilufer recalls. “So much of what I have written and studied since then can be traced back to that speech.”
When Nilufer moved on to Choate Rosemary Hall for secondary school, she focused on political science and economics with a specialization in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies; her goal was to study the structural and root causes of women’s domestic and professional struggles. In a particularly memorable Women’s Studies course, Nilufer explored the female experience in Turkey in even greater depth, tapping into her own and her family’s lived experience. Nilufer remains keenly aware, as she was delivering her speech at Fay, that sometimes people are uncomfortable hearing about these issues, but she has no intention of remaining silent. For Nilufer, change for women will only come through moral courage and frank discussion.
After graduating from Choate Rosemary Hall in 2020, Nilufer enrolled at Barnard College in New York City. Now a pre-law major, Nilufer continues to follow the path she can trace back to Fay’s Speech Contest. “The structure of my classes and life at Fay started me on this path,” she says. Determined to build her international experience and reach more women with her message, Nilufer plans to seek opportunities in nonprofits and organizations that focus on educating and liberating women. While she is not sure what exact direction her career will take, she looks back on Fay's public speaking program as a transformative moment when she learned just how powerful her voice could be.
Knowing Your Audience: Jonathan Shapiro ’84
1981 and 1984 Choate Public Speaking Awards
As a trial lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro has mastered the art of speaking in a concise and compelling manner in the courtroom. The fact that Jonathan doesn’t remember the topic of either of his Choate Award-winning speeches is proof that he always considered the substance to be secondary to the style. Today, when Jonathan stands in front of a jury to defend a pharmaceutical company from a shareholder lawsuit, he acknowledges that he is tapping into skills that he first started honing as a sixth grader at Fay.
Fay’s speech contest taught Jonathan the value of communicating effectively in a limited amount of time. “I’ve been in front of judges and juries, and I can tell you that no one has ever felt sufficiently favorably about me, or my client, that they want me to talk for too long!” Fay was where Jonathan first practiced conveying a direct, convincing, and engaging message in just
3-5 minutes. “It’s like an elevator pitch,” he says. “You need to respect other people’s time, and you can’t fit every great idea into your speech.” Jonathan remembers writing his speech outline on cue cards, practicing constantly, and making delivery notes for himself on where to pause for either applause or dramatic emphasis.
The Speech Contest is also where Jonathan first focused on winning over an audience, an essential skill for a trial lawyer. “It’s important to engage quickly with the audience, draw them in, distinguish yourself, and bring a degree of animation that will keep the audience entertained. Those are vocational skills.” Today, Jonathan still carefully scripts his arguments and tailors his delivery to the audience. “When I am scripting an argument, I’ll write cues to myself such as ‘slow and repeat’ if it’s an older judge or the material is complicated.”
Even if public speaking had not proven essential to his career, Jonathan believes that it’s a valuable experience for any student. “Having an intense focus for a little part of the year on something like public speaking is an opportunity for you to find something that you may connect with,” says Jonathan. “Or maybe you find that it’s something that you’re not very good at, and you can work on it and build a little confidence.”
Stepping Into the Spotlight: Liz Travers Bronson ’90
1989 Choate Public Speaking Award
Liz Travers Bronson remembers looking out from the podium into a sea of faces during the Speech Finals and running through a short checklist in her head: take a deep breath, speak slowly, make eye contact, and engage with the audience. She recalls being focused on sharing her experience, a speech she wrote about an on-campus emergency, with the audience and drawing strength from that. “I’m not a spotlight-seeking person, or someone who wants to be on a stage all the time,” says Liz, “but at a young age, I learned that public speaking is a core competency that I have.”
Liz describes her time at Fay as transformative. “I arrived at Fay insecure and unsure, and I didn’t really have a voice,” she recalls. “But through effort grades, being in classes with other motivated kids, and making amazing friendships that I still have today, I came out of my shell and found my voice.” Winning the speech contest in 1989 was a validation of that growing sense of confidence. “It was a notch in my belt that made me feel like I could compete.”
After Fay, Liz went on to Nobles and Greenough School and then to the University of Wisconsin. With a master’s degree in education from Simmons University under her belt, Liz taught
for two years in California before transitioning into the corporate world to work in human resources and recruiting. Eight years ago, she opened Liz Bronson Consulting, an HR consulting company based in Austin, Texas. Her company helps high-tech startups find the right people, builds HR and recruiting programs, and offers individual career coaching. Liz also co-hosts the bi-weekly Real Job Talk podcast, which covers “jobs, careers, and what isn’t said at the water cooler.”
Whether it is speaking at conferences, talking on her podcast, or appearing on a panel, public speaking has become a regular part of Liz’s work life. When asked whether she is comfortable with public speaking, she often jokes, “Yes, I won the Fay Speech Contest!” Liz notes that using her voice to share her thoughts and ideas has become something she considers one of her strengths: “I think that seed was planted at Fay.”
Sharing What Matters: Anthony D’Angelo ’15
2014 Choate Public Speaking Award
Public speaking clicked for Anthony D’Angelo in eighth grade at Fay, when he decided to write a speech about his height. “I was a pretty short kid, but I loved sports,” he recalls, “so I wrote about how I was motivated by proving people wrong and why you shouldn’t let other people dictate what you can do.” Even though his speech was filled with self-deprecating humor, Anthony recognized that he was also sharing something very personal about himself with the community. “From listening to my speech, people who I didn’t know well learned a lot about me and how I handle myself in sports or the classroom. It helped me become closer with a lot of people at Fay.”
While Anthony has flash memories of that first experience getting up in front of a group at Fay whenever he has to give a speech, it is the lessons that he learned about the writing process that have had the most significant impact. “Fay placed a strong emphasis on the speech writing process,” he recalls, “and I wouldn’t be the public speaker that I am today if I hadn’t gone through that process every year of learning how to draft, write, edit, and review my work.”
At St. Mark’s School, Anthony continued to connect with the school community through public speaking by giving a chapel talk, sharing a motivational speech with the student body before the Groton Day games, and presenting a speech at St. Mark’s graduation as the class valedictorian. Anthony just completed his junior year at Wake Forest, where he is a communications and philosophy double major, and as he slowly begins to test the internship and job market, he finds that his public speaking skills are a valuable asset. When asked about his strengths during job interviews, Anthony frequently cites his public speaking skills as an distinction that sets him apart from other candidates. “Fay laid that groundwork. Most kids don’t get the opportunity to do much public speaking in middle school, so to have that as a primary focus in the curriculum is unique.”
Finding Your Best Self: Jeremy Cramer ’93
1992 and 1993 Choate Public Speaking Awards
Jeremy Cramer found that public speaking was a powerful way to define and articulate his belief system at Fay. Inspired by the experience of visiting a memorial in Israel to children killed in the Holocaust, Jeremy wrote his eighth grade speech about the impact of his first trip to Israel. “It was the first time that I was forced—in a good way—to do that kind of introspection and to think about what role I can play in making sure that horrific events like that don’t happen again.”
Of all the lessons that Jeremy drew from his first experience with the Speech Contest, the one that sticks with him happened after he had won. Another speech finalist was in Jeremy’s homeroom, and when Jeremy was named as the winner, he was so excited that he didn’t acknowledge his classmate and fellow finalist. “I should have said something or given her a hug, and to this day, it still bothers me that I didn’t make the right choice,” says Jeremy. “There were so many lessons wrapped in that singular experience.”
As a ninth grader and captain of the tennis team, Jeremy wrote about his hero, Arthur Ashe. Jeremy had a fiery temper on the tennis court, and he admired how Ashe was always calm, respectful, and gracious in victory and defeat. Just a year before, Ashe had announced that he had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. In his speech, Jeremy spoke about Ashe’s impact on and off the court as the first African American to win the U.S. Open and Ashe’s civil rights work and AIDS advocacy. That year, Jeremy played every match with an AIDS ribbon in his pocket as a reminder to always be gracious. “I didn’t lose a match the entire season until the finals of the Fay Tennis Tournament, when I was completely shellacked by an Eaglebrook kid,” he recalls. However, Jeremy kept his cool. “I think Arthur Ashe would have been proud of how I handled myself, and that’s because when I was at Fay, I had the chance to think about who the heroes are in my life and who I aspire to be.”
Following a career spent working in development for nonprofits such as City Year and Facing History and Ourselves, Jeremy is now CEO of Exponential Philanthropy, a consultancy where he advises nonprofits on fundraising to support their initiatives. “I consider it a privilege to now be in a position where I am teaching others to stand up, speak out, and get involved in causes they want to fight for.”
Connecting Through Our Stories: Carine Kanimba ’09
2009 Choate Public Speaking Award
In her three years at Fay, Carine had seen other students share profound and personal stories in their speeches. By ninth grade, she felt ready to share her own, even though she felt sure that nobody had a story quite like it.
In 1994, Carine’s parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide. She and her sister, Anaise ’08, survived and were adopted by their aunt and uncle, Tatiana and Paul Rusesabagina. Her family story was well-known as the basis for the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, but Carine had never told her personal story. “It was a trauma knowing that I didn’t have my own parents, and I didn’t know how to share it,” she recalls. New to speaking English, Carine also felt self-conscious about her language skills. She spent hours practicing her speech into a tube given to her by her advisor that allowed her to hear her pronunciation as she spoke.
Carine was surprised by how the speech contest experience helped her connect with others. To write her speech, Carine dug into her family history to learn more. “The process allowed me to have conversations with my family that we had never had before,” she notes. And sharing her story opened her eyes to the support and shared experience around her. “So much love came my way after the speech. I spoke with others in the community who had been adopted or lost a family member or experienced a trauma, and it felt good— like I was no longer alone.”
In 2019, Carine shared her story again at TEDxPortland in a talk entitled “The Power of Forgiveness,” which has almost 18,000 views. She notes that part of the power of telling your story is that you can see your perspective evolve. “I was able to come back and tell my story again with different lessons and a more positive perspective than I had as a ninth grader.”
Today, telling her family’s story has taken on new urgency. In August 2020, Paul, a critic of the current Rwandan regime, was kidnapped and placed under arrest by the Rwandan government. Carine is based in Brussels, advocating to the European Parliament, which has condemned Paul’s illegal rendition and detention. She and her siblings spend most of their days giving interviews to media outlets worldwide because they know that keeping the spotlight on their father’s case is their best chance of keeping Paul alive. “All my life, and when I was writing that speech at Fay, I was trying to figure out why I survived when so many didn’t,” she recalls. “I have been so privileged, and I feel like my purpose is to get my father home.
Perhaps that’s why I was saved, and my greater purpose was waiting for me 27 years down the road.”