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Imagination over knowledge? |

Arts and Culture

Imagination over knowledge?

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star

It’s that time of year when ESU-Phil or English Speaking Union, Philippines chapter, comes up with an official contestant for the annual International Public Speaking Competition held in London in May.

ESU-Phil has had an outstanding record since its formation in 2002 as a country chapter. We’ve sent a dozen student delegates 20 years old and below since 2003 — to compete against some 60 to 70 other contestants from about 50 countries.

In our 12 years of participation in the IPSC, we’ve produced two world champions in Patricia Evangelista in 2004 and Gian Carlo Dapul in 2008. We’ve also had three other finalists: Camille Ng in 2003, Ervim Orbase in 2010, and Germaine Chuabio in 2011.

Per our point lady in London, Loline Reed, the Philippines had always been considered a leading contender at the IPSC, until some kind of tragedy struck last year. We had the misfortune of selecting a male student who proved so uncooperative and uncommunicative, shunning the usual practice of mentoring that we always observed before the candidate’s departure for London.

In Loline’s own words, backgrounding her proposal to tweak our usual process here in Manila, “Last year’s ‘fiasco’ was so bad that our candidate did not submit his speech to anyone at ESU-Phil before he left for London with his mother and two older sisters. Nor did he submit a final copy of his speech to me, or to the Philippine Ambassador and his staff, after I organized a training session at the Embassy.”

Loline added: “Everyone felt disappointed and annoyed as no one could even get in touch with him as he was not available. He did not give me his contact address as the family rented a place in the suburb of London. It was not until he arrived at the hotel that he surfaced. But he still did not submit a copy of his speech to anyone.

“The result was not good as expected. His speech was not good enough, nor was it fit for the IPSC. But he and his family had a fantastic time sightseeing….”

Loline proposed a change in the selection process to “avoid a repeat of last year’s ‘farcical’ participation of our Filipino delegate.” She suggested a two-round schedule for the local competition, the first to choose the Finalists, and a week later, having these Finalists compete again, “this time speaking on the actual theme of the 2014 International Public Speaking Competition to be held on May 12-16 at Dartmouth House. This will give us the opportunity to hear the actual speech that the final winner will be delivering at the Competition.”

Realizing that it would also give us more time to interview our potential choices and assess their personalities, we adopted Loline’s suggestion. Fortunately, she and her husband Ken were scheduled to be in Manila at the time of the local competition. Thus, they would both be joining the panel of judges among ESU-Phil members.

For the past several years, we have coordinated on this activity with the UP Debate Society, which organizes a series of debate contests involving students from various universities at around the same time. The group has been very cooperative, by way of including individual trials for extemporaneous speaking.

The flyer produced by the student organizations that primarily focus on the debating tourney included the following promotion for the IPSC:

“ESU-Phil is the Filipino youth’s gateway to the annual International Public Speaking Contest in London. Through its commitment in unleashing the youth’s potential in public speaking, ESU-Phil has brought glory to the Philippines by winning the championship twice and being strong finalists five times in the last 12 years.”

Led this year by Maggie del Valle, the UP Debate Society screened the entrants and chose six semi-finalists. On February 8, our first panel of judges joined the gallery of young speakers at the UP School of Mass Communications to listen to the semi-finalists who spoke on the same given topic. All of them proved outstanding. We decided to select the top three as the Finalists that would move on to the next phase.

These were: Lara Jane T. Mendoza, 4th year AB English, Far Eastern University; Arizza Ann S. Nocum, 3rd year Industrial Engineering, UP Diliman; and Mikaela V. Bernardino, 2nd year,  Business Administration, UP Diliman.

 They were given a week to prepare another speech of no more than five minutes, this time on the actual topic for the international competition, which was “Is Imagination more important than Knowledge?”

We reconvened on Feb. 15 at Faber Hall in the Ateneo de Manila’s Loyola campus, where we were hosted by ESU-Phil president and AdMU Humanities dean Dr. Marlu Vilches. Joining her for the judges’ panel were ESU-Phil chairman Amb. Cesar Bautista (who initiated the establishment of ESU-Phil when he was still our Ambassador to the Court of St. James), The British Council’s Nick Thomas, and ESU-Phil board members Dr. Lourdes Montinola, Erlinda Panlilio, Gigi Virata, Loline and Ken Reed, and this writer.

Again, we had a tough time selecting our official delegate, so close were the three ladies in scores given them for content, delivery, language, and ability to field questions after their five-minute speeches.

Upon extended deliberation, wherein we weighed the strengths and relative weaknesses of each speaker, we chose Arizza Nocum, while telling the two other young ladies to continue to polish their own draft speeches in the event that either one had to step in as an alternate.

Dr. Vilches wrote in her report on the proceedings:

“It was not easy to make a choice of one to represent ESU-Phil and the country for the IPSC in May. But we had to choose one and decided to make the two others as ‘stand-by’ in case, for whatever circumstances, the first choice wouldn’t be able to make it to the event. 

“So, the choice was Arizza Ann S. Nocum. Arizza is from Zamboanga and finished secondary education at the Philippine Science High School, the same school where Gian Dapul (our IPSC winner in 2008) graduated from.

“Between now and the time of her departure in May, Arizza will undergo training (to fine-tune her speech and practice delivery) with Krip Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Jimmy Abad, and Ed Maranan. I shall also closely coordinate with her for the other preparatory details of her participation in the IPSC.

“Many thanks to our yearly sponsors: Ed Chua and Shell Philippines for the IPSC contestant’s airfare; Nick Thomas and The British Council Manila for the IPSC contestant’s UK visa; and HSBC London for its contribution to the local pre-finals public speaking competition held on February 8 in UP Diliman.”

I have since been in touch by e-mail with Arizza, who earnestly says that she looks forward to the inputs from the mentoring panel (which happens to include three Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Hall-of-Famers, coincidentally also Philippine STAR columnists for Arts and Culture).

Part of her draft speech reads:

“Knowledge is important, but, with th(e) speed of change, it is limited. To grapple with the unknown, we must use our imagination.

“For instance, in the Philippines, we have Project NOAH — a one-stop disaster information service that aims to be accessible for every single Filipino at the click of a button. Scientists elsewhere are developing technologies for hurricane-proof homes and even emergency shelters that collect their own water and energy. Japanese inventor Koichi Kitamura filed a patent for specialized submarines that would — listen to this — destroy developing typhoons by controlling sea temperatures.

“These ideas come from the courage to propose what may seem novel or radical but could be right. These ideas come from imagination. As philosopher John Dewey said, ‘Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.’

“Knowledge is a tool, and imagination is the key we need to unlock more knowledge and link distant concepts together to be able to invent. Imagination precedes the ‘Eureka!’ moment we need to solve our problems....”

Given her depth of research and her own insights on the subject, her eloquence, as well as her personality and assurance that she will be taking the international competition seriously, we have high hopes for Arizza as our 2014 candidate in London.

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