MERIDEN — Kevin Hudson paced a few steps left and to the right in the front of the stage in Maloney High School’s Parisi Theatre Thursday night as he pondered the question of how much time in his life he believed was spent performing for the wrong reasons.
Within that larger question, Hudson further explored themes of toxic relationships, self-esteem, facing trauma and building self-confidence.
“We perform for many reasons,” said Hudson, who is also a cellist by training. “There are important roles many of us may at one point perform to help others, or achieve things for ourselves. But pouring ourselves into a single role, devoting ourselves to being one thing, is self-destructive. I know firsthand now that putting a performance up at all times was ultimately keeping me from becoming a confident young man, not shaping me into one.”
Hudson would take top honors in the public speaking portion of Maloney’s annual Hicks Prize Speaking and Writing Contest, now in its 126th year. The Maloney senior, near the closing of his winning speech, stated he and his audience must allow themselves “to experience life on many stages” and he urged them to seek connections.
“So reflect on the audiences that you seek to appease in life, and know that it’s never too late to take a bow, and end the act you’ve been putting on. After all, you’re meant to live your life, not perform it,” Hudson said.
Hudson and a classmate, Hailey Kline, were finalists in both the essay and speech categories of the Hicks Prize Contest.
Fellow senior Ian Avery took top prize for his essay in which he explored his fondness for sewing.
“It may seem odd for someone like me to sew garments in the basement of my parents’ house on my mother’s sewing machine,” Avery wrote. “To everyone around me, I am the archetype of a high school student athlete, with many of the same hobbies and interests as my peers. But there’s a different side to me, one that I have yet to discover with many others in my city. It is a side that urges me to do something different than the majority. I love baseball, watching sports, and engaging in common activities for high school students with my friends. However, I am quite independent when it comes to the interest in the personal creation of making clothes.”
Avery described sewing as an activity that allows him to “facilitate” his imagination, “channel it into physical objects,” and to interact with others.
Kline, who along with Hudson was a finalist in both contests, wrote about losing a notebook she received on her 10th birthday. It was through that notebook that Kline fosters a love for writing. Kline wrote that the passages she jotted in that notebook “quickly went from doodles and short recaps of my day to a mix of personal thoughts and stories that I felt I needed to write down. When I lost that notebook, I lost a piece of myself, too.”
Those notebook entries helped Kline foster a love for writing, beyond school assignments.
“It is a safe space for me to decompress knowing that there are no rules or guidelines to be followed,” Kline wrote.
Later, Kline, in her speech, explored a more public topic: social media. Kline pondered the negative and positive aspects of engaging online and seeking validation through social media interactions. She urged her audience to think about how they engage on those platforms.
“Social media is not going away and it’s time we showcase its positive aspects,” Kline implored. “We shouldn’t be using our social platforms to impress the world but make a good impact on it instead. Let your positivity shine through your posts. The world needs more love, and it starts with you on social media.”
Alivia Arce was an essay finalist for a piece she wrote “defining” her Hispanic life. Arce wrote that the biggest obstacle in the way of bridging her and her Puerto Rican culture was language. She was embarrassed by the fact that she didn’t speak Spanish. And later as she sought to learn, she was hindered by what she described as “flawed ideas of perfection.”
Arce wrote that the words of her junior year Spanish teacher “continuously resonate in my mind: ‘It doesn’t matter to me that you’re perfect, it matters to me that you try.’” Arce later wrote of being overjoyed when she learned she passed the Connecticut Seal of Biliteracy exam, meaning she “could still connect to her culture.”
Sophie Boulier, a public speaking finalist, spoke about stepping out of her comfort zone. She referenced her experience obtaining a license as a certified nursing assistant as one of those times. She was “apprehensive performing in an environment with many potential challenges that can lead to medical mishaps,” Boulier said. But she learned from the experience.
“Using the skills I learned at clinical, I was able to help take care of my dying 99-year-old great grandmother in a nursing home,” Boulier said, adding that she “certainly was not comfortable.”
Later, she said, “Although this was an uncomfortable time for me knowing that she probably had few days left to live, I realized that spending time with her was more important than worrying about my comfort.”
Ashley Case, a public speaking finalist, took the opportunity to address a topic important to her family: her father’s struggle with a rare neurological disorder called transverse myelitis. It affects the spinal cord, Case said. She discussed the symptoms and challenges of diagnosing and treating transverse myelitis, for which there is no cure yet.
“So, next time you wonder what it’s truly like to be one in a million, walk a mile in my dad’s shoes. Thank you,” Case said in closing.
Hudson and Avery, the contests’ winners, expressed gratitude and surprise that they earned top honors.
Avery said he didn’t expect to win. “But I’m excited that I ended up winning,” he said. “I couldn’t be any more thankful to my family and friends, and to all of my teachers.”
Platt High School will hold its edition of the Hicks Prize contest on Wednesday, May 31. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the school’s media center.