Out of the mouths of babes

Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition winner Alex Nguyen from Greystanes PS in Sydney

An early indication of the likely winner of the Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition for years 3 and 4 came when Alexander Nguyen explained why he had chosen “Understanding Others” as his speech topic.

“I think it’s imperative,” the 10-year-old said earnestly, “to understand others in order to appreciate differences and similarities.”

That was before he began his speech at the Federation Auditorium on October 30. Other children too made thoughtful speeches on how to live well in a multicultural society.

Several pointed out it that while giant examples have been set by the schoolgirl and Nobel Prize winner Malala or by footballer Adam Goodes little things can build bridges.

Thomas Garrett talked about not being able to understand the accent of his tennis coach from Slovakia, and how he thought about the difference between himself and his sister, who has Down Syndrome. “To me, my sister is different because she has one extra chromosome,” he said. “She has a heart like me and feelings. Next time you see someone with a disability, go up to them and smile at them. And next time you can’t understand someone, ask them to repeat it instead of just standing there.”

Gabriela Michalopoulos went to celebrate Diwali with her friend. “I normally wouldn’t do it,” she said, “but it showed interest and respect for my friend’s culture.” Smile at the new kid in school, said Ruby Keast. “You don’t have to be famous or rich. Just have a smile to give.”

Alex Nguyen, adjudged the winner both for his prepared and impromptu speeches, talked about how lucky he was compared to his grandfather, an old-style Aussie whose schooling, 60 years ago, was only about the three Rs.

“My grandpa told me that you didn’t learn much about people from other cultures. Wow, how times have changed!” said the boy, son of a refugee and a rich mixture of Vietnamese, Maltese and Anglo-Celt.

“I have friends from different backgrounds and religions …. We play with each other. We talk about our home routines, cultural celebrations and different foods. We accept each other because we understand each other.” The competition, the 20th of the series organised by the Department of Education, was broadcast live to 30 schools. It was the apex of months of work with thousands of children taking part. There were eight regional semi-finals leading up to the culmination.

“You should all be ridiculously proud of standing here,” organiser Lloyd Cameron told the 12 finalists.