In speeches and essays, Platt Hicks finalists examine grief, public infrastructure, culture, ambition, sports 

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MERIDEN — Edrik Morales Rosa’s voice grew animated and his cadence shifted throughout a speech that he often punctuated with snippets of Spanish — reflective of his cultural upbringing. 

Morales Rosa, a senior at Platt High School, would take the top prize for public speaking in this year’s edition of the Ratcliffe Hicks Speaking and Writing Contest for the speech, which he titled “The Rigged System of the Mind.”

Morales Rosa delivered it from behind a podium in Platt’s media center Wednesday night. He detailed how he told his mother of his aspirations to become a heart surgeon, hoping he would have her full support. 

“There was an ounce of hope that I could hear my mother say, “Yes Hijo, go for it!”. But I heard nothing like that. In fact, my mother’s response was utterly contrary to what I thought would occur. She told me, "Hijo, you can't do this; there is no guarantee for you. This ‘sistema’ isn't made for us to succeed. We can't get out," Morales Rosa said. 

Meanwhile, classmate Jocelynn Lopez took the top prize in the writing contest for her essay “Silent Killers.” Lopez, through her essay, recounted her path confronting her mother’s kidney cancer diagnosis in 2020. As Lopez coped, she grappled with numerous stages of grief: denial, anger and sadness. She wrote of how she hid those struggles from others.  

Lopez’s mother overcame her battle. Lopez described the sadness she experienced during the ordeal. She wrote that she had “moments when I just couldn’t fake being strong anymore. In these moments I would sob in my parents’ arms. I was just a grieving child in pain for a mother who was still there to comfort me and assure me that it will be alright.”

Morales Rose, in his speech, would recount his experience in the summer working for a landscaping company with Latino coworkers who he later learned were undocumented. 

“On my last day, my coworkers and I were sitting down, just talking about life. As we talked, I brought up the topic of my home and this “sistema”. I told them: ‘I feel entrapped in this world. It feels like a fight that I can’t win every day. I want to get out. I want to leave this idea, escapar.’ 

“I had to tell someone who I could trust besides my mother because I thought I would hear her same response. This response, I will never forget: “"We are 'indocumentados.' This is our life every day, Edrik; we have no chance. We have to work like this every day to keep a roof over our heads and ‘comida’ on our table,” Morales Rosa said. 

That exchange spurred Morales Rosa to a realization. It wasn’t necessarily the system holding him back. Rather, it was his mindset. 

“I was living a life of comfort, living in my bed. That wasn’t living, that was lamenting and taking life for granted. I want to become a heart surgeon. No, I need to become one, in order to fight against this status quo. I realized that I had found the answer within myself. If this system is rigged, I need to fight against it,” Morales Rosa said. 

Other Hicks speech finalists, Humyra Ferdus, Sophia Kowk, Na’shyia Preston, explored similarly nuanced topics. 

Ferdus blended humor and social commentary in a speech titled “The Plight of Poop: A Crappy State of the Union,” in which she explored what happens to human waste as it flows through wastewater treatment systems. 

Kwok detailed her journey from childhood, and her early aspirations to become a writer. But in high school, she realized “the gamble” might be too big of a risk to take. She set about a new chapter. Now Kwok is thinking of a career in pharmacy. “Something about the career fascinated me: these licensed chemists worked behind the scenes and created specialized medicine for patients, contributing just as much to a patient’s health as any regular doctor, yet never seem to get the same recognition.”

Preston, meanwhile, explored her up-and-down relationship with a sport she loved: basketball. It was a relationship that brought both joy and pain. “Basketball and I broke up,” Preston said. “I still love basketball of course but… I’d rather love it from a distance now.”

Afterwards, Morales Rosa said he was a little surprised to find out he won the speech contest. 

“But I think I hit my goal today of relaying my message out to people who need it,” he said, adding he felt it was important to include his cultural background into his speech. “It brings out a part of me that I truly love — me being Latino.”

Meanwhile, Lopez, in her essay, wrote that thoughts of losing her mother too soon replayed constantly in her mind. She later wrote that she was inspired by her mother’s courage following the difficult diagnosis. 

“Her diagnosis taught me to confront my fears and insecurities and not run from them. I realized that what may be your weakness today, may be your strength tomorrow. Eventually, I overcame the sadness and grief. I allowed the anxiety to leave me. I learned how to truly love and not to take anything for granted,” Lopez said. 

Lopez’s proud mother was present at the ceremony to watch her daughter take the top prize. She smiled as her daughter spoke with a Record-Journal reporter. 

Lopez described the experience of winning as “surreal.”

“I feel very blessed,” she said. 

Other essay finalists explored social anxiety, the stress of trying to earn high scores in standardized tests and college entry exams, and burning out on a beloved sport, softball.

Mikayla Bunnell, one of the essay finalists, wrote, too much importance has been placed on the SAT. There is too much pressure on teachers to teach only what is on the test, and too much pressure on students to get good scores.” That pressure, Bunnell wrote, “prevents students from receiving a well-rounded English education that includes creative writing and thinking.”

Ariana Soto, another essay finalist, explored her journey playing softball. “This experience has taught me many lessons along my journey, from learning how to stay humble, support a team, and understand that it is okay to take breaks.” She added that “winning shouldn’t always be the purpose of a sport. Sports should be a fun pastime that shouldn’t feel as stressful as taking a test.”

Classmate Dayna Smith explored her struggle with social anxiety, which she continually experienced through her childhood. She relayed how she managed to use mask mandates and shared social awkwardness that resulted from COVID-19 mitigation strategies to her advantage. She got focused in clubs that require more social interaction, and she eventually tried sports. 

“Opening my eyes to many new things made me realize I don’t have to pass through life in fear of everything. Those fears will only lead to me being by myself and not unexpectedly discovering things I can be passionate about,” Smith wrote, later adding that while she hasn’t fully overcome social anxiety, “I have been able to manage it.”



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