Two SMUS students, Maya and Rowan, sit on a bench in front of a brick wall, smiling for a photo.

Two Senior School students were recently named among the top young speakers in the country, at Speech and Debate Canada Foundation's National Persuasive Speaking Competition.

Grade 9 student Rowan Denis and Grade 10 student Maya Achuthan were both named in the top 3 of their respective categories.

"It was very exciting [to come third]," says Rowan.

"We saw a lot of really good speakers. I didn't think I'd get this far so it's a really nice surprise," adds Maya. "It also gives us room for improvement next year."

The competition saw students from across the country submit speeches on the theme of Making Canada Stronger. Student speakers were then required to research a topic of their choosing under that theme and propose a solution.

Rowan spoke eloquently about the problems teenagers face related to social media, and proposed silent reading as a way to improve mental health.

"It's a topic I feel very strongly about and it's something that I love," she says. "That made it easier to talk personally before moving more into the academic side of it."

Maya's persuasive speech focused on homelessness and housing affordability during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted steps that BC is taking, policy changes and a shifting mindset around homelessness as incremental solutions to the problems.

"I saw that during the pandemic, the government response to taking care of the homeless population was better than it was before because of concerns around spreading COVID-19. Now all these restrictions are being lifted, and it seems like there's less of a concern by governments," she says. "I live near downtown and it's something I see every day, so I thought this would be a good way to learn more and talk about it."

Student competitors from across the country prerecorded their speeches and sent them in for the first round of judging. Both Rowan and Maya were then notified they made the finals, and were provided feedback from judges to make adjustments to their speech and performance for the final round.

Rowan ultimately came in third in the Grade 7-9 category, and Maya came in third in the Grade 10-12 category.

Both students say they will enter again next year, and look forward to further opportunities to participate in public speaking and debate competitions.

"I had never actually participated in a competition like this, and I thought it could be an interesting experience because I've always enjoyed public speaking," says Rowan. "I had a lot of fun. I think it's a good competition to ease yourself into public speaking because they give you a theme but the parameters are pretty loose, so you can focus on something that you're passionate about."