‘‘Students are like fires waiting to be lit.”
This was how Aloysius Francis Bresnan, 16, began his winning oration at the very first Voice of Asia international speech competition held on April 17 at the Emilio Aguinaldo College auditorium in Taft Avenue in Manila.
His words rang true when he shone the brightest among five other contenders from around the continent, taking home the grand prize and the honor of being the very first champion of the Voice of Asia.
The Naga City native proudly represented the Philippines alongside finalists Frinsen Johnny Hutagalung of Indonesia; Feras Abdulrahman Al Anazi for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Dzung Hoang of Vietnam; Ye Eun Park of South Korea; and Liu Hui Tse of Taiwan.
The Voice of Asia is the first of its kind speech competition in the country that opened to high school students nationwide late last year. The national finals were held on March 19 also at the EAC auditorium. Bresnan competed with 19 other talented orators from different schools all over the Philippines before earning the privilege of representing the country on Wednesday.
As champion, Bresnan took home a cash prize of $500 and full scholarship for a dual degree program from the Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) and The Manila Times College (TMTC).
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Park finished second, while Taiwan’s Tse landed third place. Both finalists also won cash prizes and full scholarships from EAC and TMTC as well.
After the three-hour competition, The Sunday Times Magazine (STM) interviewed the triumphant Bresnan who, with his newfound voice, shared his experiences in the competition, his opinions on the education system, and his dreams for the future.
A major win
Confident on stage, and more importantly, with his answers to a myriad of questions, it was as if the Voice of Asia was not Bresnan’s first experience—and victory—in a public speaking competition. It was indeed a surprise to discover that this is even the very first time he competed in anything outside his school.
A senior at St. Joseph School in Naga City when he joined Voice of Asia, Bresnan—who is now an incoming college freshman—admitted that the only contests similar to public speaking he joined at school were debates. Moreover, his initial exposures to public speaking only took place as host of several campus events.
“As a senior, they pick me to emcee programs from English Day to intramurals,” Bresnan revealed.
He admitted, however, that he is the most talkative member of the Bresnan household.
“My mom remembers that when I was four-year-old, I hosted my own birthday party. And I just kept on talking even when my guests were trying to break the piñata. I was just like a commentator. So I guess you can say that I was a speaker from a very young age.”
Never did he dream, however, that he would best 19 gifted Filipino speakers from 11 different regions many years later, as well as five Asian contenders. Clearly, Bresnan’s feat was no easy task for it entailed lots of hard work for many months on top of completing his requirements for high school graduation.
Sheepishly, he confessed to The Sunday Times Magazine, “I’m very relieved it’s finally over because I can actually go on summer vacation now! After graduating, all my classmates were very relaxed, but I had to get ready for the competition.”
He also graduated as first honorable mention of his batch and gained leadership awards as well as recognitions in public speaking and cultural performances.
But he quickly added that his happiness outweighs his eagerness to take a much-deserved break.
“I am very happy not just for myself but for my mom and dad and the rest of my family who have been very supportive of me. I’m also very happy for my coach who worked with me, and that all our hard work paid off.”
Inspiring the youth
According Bresnan, the Voice of Asia also strengthened his love for public speaking.
“I simply relish the feeling of talking in front of a crowd. It gives an adrenaline rush. Sometimes I also get very nervous. Earlier in the competition, my hands were really cold, but once I got out there and started to speak, it was exhilarating,” he expressed.
While he originally planned to take up Medicine to become a doctor, it seems that Bresnan’s win at the Voice of Asia might add on to his ambitions.
“Now that I’ve realized how much I love public speaking, my path might change a little bit. I might not just be a regular doctor anymore, but maybe, I can also go into motivational speaking on the side.”
Bresnan thought about this because he also realized the power of public speaking in inspiring people and effecting change.
“I think if we can be courageous enough, teenagers like us can to stand up and talk about [societal]issues that affect us. And when others youths see us, just like they did in Voice of Asia, they might be inspired to voice out their own opinions and be heard on the things that are important to them.”
He expressed hope that the next Voice of Asia competition will be bigger and will encourage more high school students to be involved in discussing the very issues that affect them.
With youth and education as the theme for the first Voice of Asia competition, Bresnan and the other finalists were asked such questions as, “Does the Internet makes teachers unnecessary?”; “Should Asian students read more Asian books rather than European books?” “Who is more effective in making you learn, a teacher who lectures through the whole class all the time or a teacher who works with you individually?”
One very interesting question that came Bresnan’s way was, “Should students be forced to compete in at least one sport?” While schools generally encourage physical activities among students, he bravely answered in the negative and took the stand that sports should never be enforced on the youth. He added that mandating a student to go into something that does not interest him will simply make him feel inadequate.
“It will not help them,” he stressed. “Students should be able to pursue instead what they want, be it the arts, sports or academics.”
For this interview, Brenan took the opportunity to share his opinion on the new K-to-12 education program initiated by Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro. While it will no longer affect him, he disclosed that he agrees with the new framework.
“I have read a lot about it. And I am for it because we are the only country in Asia that is not following that program,” he explained. “So I believe that we should have it not only to make students globally competitive but also to give Filipino students the opportunity to study in other countries with the same kind of educational system.”
He further lauded the two-year senior high school component of K to 12, which is equivalent to a two-year college course. “This will benefit many Filipinos who urgently need jobs because they can go to work right away.”
He is grateful for being able to share his thoughts on the state of Philippine education through the Voice of Asia.
“I think education is important because it is the best tool that you can have to make a change in our society. It’s not about knowing a lot of things but it’s about how you apply those things and make the world a better place.”