Harper Graves Uses Prize Speaking Platform to Connect with Her Peers

When Harper Graves ’22 decided to audition for the 2019 Prize Speaking competition, she started with research. She started by reaching out to Amarah Friedman ’20, last year’s Prize Speaking winner. Friedman advised her to choose a piece that their fellow students could relate to.

Graves thought about how much her friends talk about finding the right college and has learned about how anxiety and depression are becoming increasingly prevalent for teenagers across the United States. She searched for books online and found that our own McCulloch Library had a copy of It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, a novel about an ambitious New York teenager coping with depression and stress at his college preparatory school. Several other friends confirmed her choice: they had read it, were reading it or had it on their to-read lists. Graves started reading and quickly found her piece.

She embodied the main character on stage last week, conveying a sense of urgency and anxiety as she spoke about the importance of the work of high school students. “When I finished, some people came up and talked about the section about ‘if I don’t get into a good college, I won’t get a good job, and if I don’t get a good job, I won’t be able to get a house,’ and so on. It’s a thought process that feels familiar to us because MICDS prepares us for the future. We think about what will happen in the future if we don’t prepare right now.”

Graves said she was nervous, but the audience couldn’t tell. She liked that the protagonist in the book sometimes stuttered, which she felt she could use. “If I tripped over words,” she said, “I could relate it back to the character.”

“I would do it again. It was so fun!”

The entire experience was fulfilling for Graves. “The ability to get up in front of your peers and perform something that you’ve put a lot of time and work into, and then when they respond positively and appreciate the work you’ve done and the time and effort you’ve spent to entertain them, it’s a rewarding experience,” she said.

The MICDS Prize Speaking is a 103-year-old tradition, dating back to World War I. Students select excerpts in October, audition in November and perform in December. Upper School English Teacher David Terrell introduced this year’s event. He said, “Last night I was minding my own business in Starbucks, reading my ninth graders’ Antigone essays, when I was ambushed by two current seniors. Reminiscing about the literature they’ve been asked to read at MICDS, they couldn’t help but notice the weight of tragedy and the horrible outcomes suffered by Piggy and Simon and Creon, and I’m going to stop there because my friends in the balcony have a lot of reading over the next three and half years. And let me just say on behalf of the English department that we’re not trying to break your hearts but trying to break them in. This is how we learn empathy.

“Harper Graves is very likely to win this year’s Prize Speaking event because she’s the only student who survived the November 18 audition. And while I’m happy for Harper’s imminent success and truly grateful for the time she has invested in learning her piece, I’m most pleased for the rest of us who get to hear what Harper has prepared.

“It’s entirely relevant to our lives here at MICDS, where more than a few of us—and by ‘us’ I mean ‘you’—have developed a knack for putting too much pressure on ourselves, especially when we come to think of grades only as currency we can leverage in a future transaction.”

Congratulations to Harper for her wonderful performance!