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When she talks, people listen

Studies routinely show that the average person fears public speaking more than death. If that’s the case, then to tweak a popular cliché, Maggie LaRonde is laughing in the face of public speaking. The 16-year-old Breslau resident, already an award-winner for her orations, has progressed to the provincial finals for public speaking in contests held by both the Optimist Club and the Lions Club.

Maggie LaRonde will compete in both the Optimist and Lions clubs’ public speaking contests next month.[will sloan / the observer]
Maggie LaRonde will compete in both the Optimist and Lions clubs’ public speaking contests next month. [will sloan / the observer]
Stage fright has never been an issue. “I’ve been performing since I was a little kid – I’ve done piano and gymnastics and synchronized swimming and all that,” said LaRonde. “I’ve always loved the spotlight.”

However, she added, “I think what I didn’t like was losing!”

LaRonde has been preparing public speeches on an annual basis since Grade 5 when she presented on the science of lightning for her classmates. Accolades were not forthcoming. Next year, when she transitioned into home-schooling, and her mother made public speaking a central component of the curriculum, she returned to the topic and won first place in her schooling league.

Last year, Maggie LaRonde proved her bona fides with an irreverent-but-affectionate presentation about Shakespeare, which brought her to the Canadian Legion’s provincial finals. She went home with a silver medal. “Everyone tells you, ‘You should be happy with second.’ Well, I didn’t go to win second! I want to win first!” she laughed.

Well, other chances are afoot. This year, LaRonde and her competitors are presenting on the topic: “Why my voice is important.” The topic strikes a chord for the teenager, who feels it is a tonic for generational apathy.

“When teens were removed from the workplace with the new laws that came into place for child labour, they were made exclusive consumers,” said LaRonde. “In a society where we’re taught that we’re only consumers, we’re taught and expected to be drinking and all that sort of stuff.”

She continued, “I can think tons of times when we’ve been places with mom and dad and people would say, ‘They’re such good kids, but just wait ‘til they’re 15 or 16.’ It’s totally ingrained in people that as soon as we hit 15, 16, we’re going to be no-goods.”

LaRonde has put actions to her words: her speech will touch upon her own activism – she has protested the use of untested and potentially dangerous chemicals in beauty products.

Mother Lori LaRonde explained, “Almost all the kids do really amazing speeches, but a lot of them are in theory. ‘My voice is important to stand up for people who can’t speak, or who are oppressed or persecuted,’ that’s a theme, but Maggie’s has a totally different twist. She’s actually talking about what she’s actually doing.”

Maggie LaRonde will perform for the Lions on May 4 in St. Catharines and for the Optimists on May 25 in Alma. Top prizes are $1,000 and a $2,500 scholarship respectively.

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