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Brentwood Park student wins public speaking contest

Juliana Valerio of Brentwood Park elementary is this year
Juliana Valerio of Brentwood Park elementary is this year's winner of Burnaby school district's Grade 7 Public Speaking Challenge held at Byrne Creek secondary on March 12. Her speech entitled 'Every Love Matters' called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/NewsLeader

Juliana Valerio is this year's winner of Burnaby school district's Grade 7 Public Speaking Challenge.

The Brentwood Park elementary student took the top prize with her talk against homophobia entitled "Every Love Matters."

This year's topic for the competition, which started in 1983, was "We Matter."

Valerio said after the finals that she was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech, which her teacher Estelle Keeler played for her class.

In it, King calls for an end to racial discrimination and segregation.

"When one bad thing goes another bad thing replaces it," Valerio explained of her twist on King's address. Now that racism isn't as much of an issue as in the past, what's taken its place is discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"Every day on the playground you hear, 'that's so gay,'" she said. When a child says it, "nobody questions them … It's becoming part of our everyday language just like all the discriminative words towards black people in the '60s," said Valerio.

"Whenever you say something racist in public you'll get some pretty dirty looks. You don't do that for somebody that says, 'that's so gay.'"

She wants to help change that.

Her speech hearkens back to King's speech, a reminder that what he fought for wasn't so different.

As for her win, Valerio said shortly afterwards, "It still hasn't sunk in yet … It's still surreal to me and it's been 10 minutes since they told me."

Her outwardly confident delivery belies her nerves underneath. "I actually think I have a fear of public speaking," she said with a laugh. "I can't be calm while doing something like this."

This year, 39 schools participated in the competition, with students competing at the class level, then against all Grade 7s in their school before moving on to the district zone competition.

Eight finalists emerged from that semi-final, the top two for each of four zones. Stride Avenue Community School had two students represent its zone.

And it was two Cameron elementary students that took second and third place honours. Sidharth Suja Sudhir finished in second with a speech on the importance of immigration and Mariantonella Picon was in third with her call to fight against bullying.

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