Teens impress judges with grasp of life issues in Right to Life oratory contest

Left to right, Thomas Belej of Notre Dame Prep High School in Pontiac, Thomas Shea of Everest Collegiate High School in Clarkston, and Jacob Sasak of Everest Collegiate High School in Clarkston competed in the Birmingham/Bloomfield Right to Life oratory contest March 16 at Everest. Sasak placed first in the regional event, and will compete May 20 in the statewide competition. (Photos by Kelly Luttinen | Special to Detroit Catholic)

High school students from across southeast Michigan compete for chance to represent Michigan in national pro-life competition

CLARKSTON — High school students around the state are responding to a challenge from Right to Life of Michigan to defend the unborn, staking out a pro-life position in the debate about abortion and other life issues.

Students throughout Michigan, including many from the six-county Archdiocese of Detroit, are competing in the annual Right to Life High School Oratory Contest. Local contests took place between March 16 and April 1, with a state competition slated for May 20 at New Hope Community Church in Charlotte.

The winner of the state contest will receive a $500 prize and an expenses-paid trip to the national contest held June 24 in Pittsburgh. The national winner will receive a $1,000 prize as well as the opportunity to give his or her speech at the 2023 National Right to Life Convention banquet.

Jacob Sasak of Everest Collegiate High School in Clarkston took first place in the Birmingham/Bloomfield Right to Life affiliate event held March 16 at Everest.

“I decided to participate in the contest because I thought it would be a great opportunity as a teenager to speak the truth and spread the pro-life message,” Sasak said. “I also wanted to be a good example to peers and friends of going outside my comfort zone to do something good and right.”

Thomas Belej of Notre Dame Prep High School in Pontiac, also participated in the March 16 event.

“Abortion is a very emotional issue, and in the heat of arguments, people tend to abandon reason,” Belej said. “I decided to participate because I think writing (a speech) is a great way to communicate complicated ideas in an organized, coherent way. ... Not only is (abortion) responsible for the deaths of millions every year, it is incredibly misunderstood and mainstreamed. For our society to become as intelligent and respectful of human life as it claims to be, it has to do away with abortion.”

Left to right, Terri Nallamothu, a member of Choices Detroit, which sponsored and donated prize money for the March 16 event; Nancy Peterson, executive director of Mother and Unborn Baby Care Crisis Pregnancy Center in Southfield; and Paul Propson, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, served as judges for the Birmingham/Bloomfield Right to Life affiliate contest.
Left to right, Terri Nallamothu, a member of Choices Detroit, which sponsored and donated prize money for the March 16 event; Nancy Peterson, executive director of Mother and Unborn Baby Care Crisis Pregnancy Center in Southfield; and Paul Propson, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, served as judges for the Birmingham/Bloomfield Right to Life affiliate contest.

One of the judges in the March 16 event, Terri Nallamothu, a member of Choices Detroit, which sponsored and donated prize money for the March 16 event, said she was “very impressed with the students who came out to speak about a topic that is not easy to discuss as a teenager.”

The national Right to Life Oratory Contest is named after Jane B. Thompson, a nurse who was involved in the pro-life movement in New York before Roe v. Wade was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The first oratory contest originated in New York in the 1980s when Thompson, her husband and other pro-lifers wanted to develop a way to help young people become more aware of the pro-life issue and to get more involved in the movement.

Maria Masalskis-Hardie, who teaches AP English, history and speech at Everest, encouraged her students to participate and said it was particularly important to see young men standing up for the cause of life.

"It was a true gift to see this year's competitors stand up to defend the sanctity of life,” Masalskis-Hardie said. “In a world that tells men abortion is ‘not their issue,’ we need strong men who recognize their role as protectors of women, children and the family.”

Several affiliates in the Downriver area combined efforts to host their event March 18 at the Southgate Public Library, the 34th year for the oratory contest.

The winner, J. Guadalupe Sanchez from St. Francis Cabrini High School in Allen Park, contrasted the abortion issue with the annual march for Women's History Month, saying true equality doesn't rely on abortion. Sanchez listed women who have done great things, including Joan of Arc, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Rosa Parks. “Their fights to advance equal opportunity for women did not rely on abortion,” he said.

Sanchez will advance to the state contest and will be invited to speak at the Downriver Right to Life pastors luncheon in May, as well as its Life Walk fundraiser in June and Focus for Life dinner in October, said Debbie Bloomfield, the Downriver event's organizer.

Everest Collegiate teacher Maria Masalskis-Hardie, pictured with her husband and son, said it was edifying to see students standing up for the cause of life and growing to become leaders in the pro-life movement.
Everest Collegiate teacher Maria Masalskis-Hardie, pictured with her husband and son, said it was edifying to see students standing up for the cause of life and growing to become leaders in the pro-life movement.

Bloomfield said the contest “opens the door” for her affiliate to work with students, their families, schools and teachers. “It gives an opportunity and incentive for students to research polarizing topics from a pro-life perspective. Each generation must decide anew the value and dignity of each human life from conception to natural death,” Bloomfield said.

Plymouth Right to Life hosted its contest March 25 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, with Soren Nielsen of Skyline High School in Ann Arbor winning first place.

Organizer Mary Ann Verderbar said because of the lack of Catholic high schools in the area, the Plymouth chapter relies on parishes and youth ministry leaders to spread the word about the event.

"We are committed to building those relationships and creating greater awareness and participation for this contest in the future,” Verderbar said.

Washtenaw Area Right to Life affiliate held its contest March 25 at Fr. Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor. The winning contestant was Francesca Cella from St. Augustine’s Homeschool Enrichment Program in Ann Arbor.

St. Clair County Right to Life held the final local event in southeast Michigan on April 1 at Cardinal Mooney High School in Marine City. Abigail Ries, a homeschooled junior, took first place honors.

“In all, we had eight orators, the most we have ever had, and none were seniors,” said Marilynn Pavlov, a member of the St. Clair Right to Life board. “A couple were even freshmen. These young people not only researched their topic well, they tied their research to Scripture and to the way God designed the world. They delivered their speeches with passion and poise. It is most encouraging to see young people entering the fight for life with a well-developed argument and thought structure.”

Right to Life Oratory Contest

High school students in southeast Michigan and beyond who are interested in participating in next year’s contest can check for more information at Right to Life's website.



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