Local student wins oratorical world championship

Local student wins oratorical world championship
July 10 17:55 2018 Print This Article

Recent Charleston County School of the Arts (SOA) graduate Caleb Smith won the Optimist International Oratorical World Championship in St. Louis on June 29.  Sponsored by the West Ashley Optimist Club, Smith topped a field of 54 regional competition winners representing eight countries. Club President Joddi Collins-Gray remarked, “West Ashley Optimist Club is very proud of Caleb’s accomplishment. He is a very talented young man and is going to do great things in the future.” Smith earned $22,500 in scholarship money in a series of oratorical competitions. He will major in theater and film and minor in business at Oglethorpe University, a liberal arts college near Atlanta.

Smith, who has a big smile and an effervescent personality, was encouraged to enter the local oratorical competition by his SOA English teacher, Dr. John Cusatis. Smith had less than two weeks to write and rehearse his speech on the question “Where are my roots of optimism?” His speech focused on the words “roots” and “optimism”. He praised his parents and ancestors for the opportunities they have given him, and emphasized that optimism allows people to accomplish great things, while pessimism is destructive. His message also aimed at shattering negative stereotypes the media and entertainment industry portray for minorities.

The world championship competition was held at a performing arts center at St. Louis University in front of hundreds of spectators. Smith was comforted by the presence of his parents Kevin and Niki and his sister Carsyn in the audience. He praised the West Ashley Optimist Club for encouraging him during every competition along the way.

Smith also has high praise for the culture at SOA, which pushed him to excel. His theater teacher George Younts helped him secure performances at Dock Street Theater and got him placed on a television appearance of Chicken Soup for the Soul – Hidden Heroes. Smith said of SOA, “People can show creativity and not be judged. It is easy to make friends there, and most people strive to be their best.” He also said experiences with Palmetto Boys State and the cultural non-profit The Beaux Affair helped him hone his speaking skills.

West Ashley Optimist Club meets for lunch on the fourth Tuesday of each month, usually at the St. Andrews Parks and Playground headquarters at 1095 Playground Road. The group raises money for college scholarships, performs youth-oriented service projects, and sponsors an essay and oratorical contest each year. An annual Christmas tree sale is the group’s major fundraising event. Group leader Kevin Walsh said that Smith’s world championship achievement has been an inspiration to everyone in the organization and aligns with its mission to “bring out the best in kids.”