Seaford High School senior Matthew Provenzano knew what he had to do to be crowned the winner of the recent countywide Theodore Roosevelt Public Speaking Contest.
After competing four times in the contest, Provenzano not only had it down to a science, he made history for the district.
“The competition is so much more than the spoken word,” Provenzano explained. “It’s like mental and physical acrobatics. You have to think about your delivery, your voice, your stance, where you put your hands, your timing and elocution.”
Going before judges to deliver a five-minute speech on the porch of Sagamore Hill — where President Roosevelt was known to give many of his speeches — Provenzano was rated on his originality, content, eloquence, stage presence and timing. His speech was so well-received, he walked away with the top prize of $1,000 and a bust of the 26th U.S. president.
“He put Seaford on the map of this competition,” said Seaford High School Assistant Principal Carisa Burzynski, a former social studies teacher and district coordinator for the contest. “His performance gave us goose bumps.”
The young orator, who captured third place last year and was a finalist as a sophomore, went up against stiff competition from the most highly regarded districts in Nassau County. Many of them sent five contestants, the maximum allowable number, to compete in the rigorous tournament. Provenzano was the only contestant this year from Seaford.
Seaford High School Principal Michael Ragon tapped Provenzano for the contest four years ago after hearing him deliver a speech to incoming freshman when he was in ninth grade.
“He has an inherent, natural talent for public speaking,” Ragon said. “We’re all very proud of him.”
Provenzano spent three months preparing for the contest. First, he researched his topic about Theodore Roosevelt and how he dealt with social injustices by reading the famous president’s speeches and other documents.
A month before, Provenzano wrote his speech, incorporating primary sources such as letters into it, and in the weeks prior to the competition, he memorized it and practiced his delivery primarily on his own. His involvement in Model Congress over the last four years also helped him hone his skills.
In addition to earning the top prize, Provenzano said the experience gave him a greater appreciation for presidential politics, discovering through his research that, “human nature remains the same no matter what time; Roosevelt’s values transcend time,” he said.
Burzynski plans to cultivate more students for the contest with a goal of having the district represented at the same magnitude as other schools in Nassau County.
“I videotaped his speech and will use it as a training tool to groom other students for the contest,” she said. “His oratory skills are what we want students to emulate.”