Wolf is national declamation champion
Eleven-year-old Jonathan Wolf made CNMI history last week as the first middle school student from the Pacific Islands District to win a championship trophy at the annual speech and debate tournament coordinated by the National Speech and Debate Association in Salt Lake City, Utah. He won the history-making trophy with his interpretation of Patrick Henry’s famous 1775 speech, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”
As one of the youngest competitors, the 6th grade student from Dan Dan Middle School, in his first-ever trip to the weeklong tournament, bagged his first place trophy competing against hundreds of competitors in the Declamation category. Wolf also placed third in the nation in the category of Humorous interpretation. He was joined by Kate Ishida, who placed fourth for her performance in original oratory and made it to the quarterfinals for Humorous interpretation as well.
Over 5,000 students who bested hundreds of others in their state districts traveled to Utah to compete. Over 30 states and six countries took part at the national level.
“It was fun. I do not know how far I could have made it without my mom’s coaching and brother’s support,” Wolf told Saipan Tribune. I learned that I am really good at it…I have a lot of passion for this.”
“I learned that even if you are not the best at something, you can still join and still win,” he added when asked on what he took away from his first competition.
His mother and coach Kristine Wolf was gobsmacked when she heard the news, but acknowledged the hard work of her son.
“I feel really proud and it has been a good experience for him. It’s all of his hard work,” she explained. “Seeing his older brother, Kelvin, compete inspired him to join. This is a good chance for our island of Saipan to be known. Not everyone knows where we are and hopefully this will help with that so we can be known.”
Other members of both middle and high school divisions earned their spots in the top tier of competitors in that nation.
For the middle school division, Esther Kim advanced to the quarterfinals in Prose reading; Esther Park went on to compete in the quarterfinals of Storytelling; James Park advanced to the semifinals in Humorous interpretation; Harry Noh made it to Round 3 in extemporaneous debate placing him among the Top 11 in the nation.
In the high school division, nearly half of the CNMI participants advanced to the next rounds. Rebekah Kim, Cerinn Hwang, Kelvin Wolf, Rose Jones, Jonelle Toskas, and Cathryn Javier made it to the Top 100 to 200 students in their categories. This reporter placed in the Top 70 students in Impromptu speaking.
Minna Ito advanced to the Top 97 in Expository Speaking and to the Top 100 in prose reading.
Yujin Lee set the new CNMI record in Poetry reading placing in the Top 50, Kelvin Wolf continued the island’s success in Storytelling finishing in the Top 40.
For her part, former junior high national finalist and veteran orator Yujin Lee, said, “Throughout this trip, I learned so much about how to improve my speech skills and also made new friends who have the same passion for forensics as I do.”
NSDA Executive Director Scott Wunn urged the students to never “forget the power of your voice.” He noted that the event transcends competition and values diverse participation in national conversations.
CNMI Speech and Debate Association board chair Harold Easton lauded the team’s efforts: “What this team did was a massive effort. We had support from the Public School System, parents, coaches, and teachers. I am really proud of how things worked out.”
“If this doesn’t increase their confidence in presenting themselves I would be very much surprised,” he added.
The students from15 different private and public schools were trained and accompanied by their teacher coaches spanning: Joy Jones, Filmah Buenaflor, Dencio Manglona, Frank Borja, Celia Jang, Kristine Wolf, Marylou Dejilas, Ashley Sikayun, Victoria Nishida, Lorelisa Espiritu, Grace Duran, and Grace Rosete.
Every year the CNMI Public School System and the Federal Programs office sends students to compete at the national level after they qualify by competing against other private and public schools at the regional level. Like many other students, Jonathan Wolf plans to compete to represent the CNMI in next year’s tilt.