WEST POINT, N.Y. -- (Aug. 26, 2016) Eight students from West Point Middle School spoke on their top choice of "A Person Who Has Overcome" at the school's Inaugural Speech Contest, May 23.

The contest was open to all students' grades five through eight. Each grade level awarded two finalists. These finalists then competed in the school wide competition. Topics ranged from family members fighting cancer, athletes overcoming great odds and personal heroes such as William Shakespeare.

The topic A Person Who Has Overcome brings images of many heroes to mind; our founding fathers, military leaders, social activists and trailblazers almost always top the list as those who have battled victoriously amidst strife. However, if we look around our community there are many who struggle personally every day to fight illness, poverty, loneliness or discrimination. These every day heroes face trying circumstances every day of their life with grace and courage.

The grade level finalist were:

Grade five level: Brian Corrigan and Ashley Schultz

Grade six level: Josh Wozniak and Georgia Svoboda (Svoboda was ill and did not participate in the school wide contest. Madeline Bruhl delivered her own speech as an alternate)

Grade seven level: Luci Dunham and Charlee Van Poppel

Grade eight level: Anna Read and Paula Harvie

Wozniak enthusiastically shared his personal story as someone dealing with autism. His honesty and passion in insisting that he was just the same as all of his friends and should be treated as such, jerked both tears and giggles. Wozniak received a thunderous standing ovation of support from the entire West Point Middle School when he was announced as the contest's First Place Winner. Second place was awarded to Harvie who spoke devotedly about her brother who has epilepsy. Dunham was awarded third place for her inspiring speech about Bethany Hamilton who got back up on the surfboard despite having lost her arm to a shark.

The speech contest was founded by Maggie Haley, a 10th grader at James I. O'Neill High School, in the Village of Highland Falls, just outside the gates of West Point. Haley was a state speech contest champion when she was in middle school in North Carolina. Upon realizing that there was no similar program here at West Point, decided to share her love of public speaking with the students of West Point Middle School by starting a school-wide speech contest with the support of West Point Middle School Principal, Miles Shea and its English teachers. Haley secured a grant from the West Point Spouse's Club and additional monies from the West Point School's Parent Teacher Organization to fund awards and supplies for three years of speech contests.

Haley believes that like other competitive sports, speech and debate contests offer a tremendous opportunity for students to build self-confidence and discover their talents. Writing and delivering speeches strengthens student's communication and critical thinking skills. Participating in speech contests inspires our youth to find their own voice and encourages their creativity. Students at the middle school level are perfect candidates for participating in speech contests because the skills learned from this challenge, will benefit them well in high school as proficient public speakers and self-assured leaders.

She believes that her involvement and success with speech contests made a huge impact on her life. The process of brainstorming, organizing and scripting a speech greatly advances writing skills and helps students find their own voice. The practice of speaking in front of large audiences has served her well in being a confident public speaker both on stage and in the classroom. Finally, the thrill of speaking to others on a subject that you are passionate about is amazing.

Haley believes that speech contest gives the students a unique opportunity to challenge themselves, boost their confidence and express themselves. It is her hope that the participants of this speech contest will find their own voice and share in her love of public speaking.