Public Speaking Standouts

by May 31, 2023Kids, South Brunswick

High school seniors Dallas Russ and Dimitry Williamson win scholarships in the annual Odell and Virginia Williamson Oratorical Scholarship Contest.

Public speaking ability propelled two Brunswick County students to win the 51st annual Odell and Virginia Williamson Oratorical Scholarship Contest on April 18. The award is given to one female and one male student each year. Dallas Russ, graduating from Early College High School (ECHS), chose “Civility in America” as her topic. Dimitry Williamson, a senior at South Brunswick High School (SBHS), chose “The Mental Health Crisis in the U.S.” as the topic of his speech. Each student won $2,500 in scholarship money plus $100 for winning their school’s contest.

“I’ve been speaking competitively since seventh grade,” Russ says. “[Oratory] was something I was naturally drawn to. It was to build another useful skill for my future.”

Russ says she chooses topics that have a broader impact on listeners.

“I’m impassioned about the social environment of America and how important civility weighs on it,” she says, adding that she defines civility as basic respect for every citizen. “Everyone has the right to share their opinion as much as you do. Our system of government was founded on collaboration. Civility gives the foundation for more voices to be heard. It’s critical for our government and every citizen’s voice to be heard.”

ECHS Counselor Marijayne Jessup says that in her speech Russ encourages everyone to lead with respect for others as the priority. “This is a message we all can benefit from in every aspect of our lives,” she says. She adds that “Dallas is a powerful student leader.”

Attending Western Carolina University in Cullowhee with a double major in criminal justice and social work in the fall, Russ plans to go to law school after she earns her bachelor’s degree. “My biggest aspiration is to be a family lawyer because I’m passionate about advocating for the rights of children,” she says. “That’s what I want to do.”

Dallas Russ oratory contest winner

Russ has earned an additional $6,000 in scholarship funds from her speeches, primarily from American Legion competitions. “Public speaking has helped me grow confidence and share my ideas with others,” she says. “I hear all these different ideas and opinions during competitions, and that’s what I’m advocating for.” She suggests other aspiring oratory students choose a topic they are passionate about, do the research and know the topic. Following this advice, “You’ll be more competent in delivery,” she says.

Russ lives in Ash with her parents Chris, who is in the construction business, and Robin, a Brunswick County teacher. She has three younger sisters.

Williamson says he chose mental health as his topic because “it’s an issue all of us are affected by. I talked about what I felt. I spoke to the entire audience, not just the judges.”

He explains that 19 percent of Americans, which is 180 million people, will be diagnosed with mental illness by the end of 2023. Unrestricted use of cell phones and social media contributes to mental health issues, he says. “Everybody’s mental health can be impacted by the cell phone. I’ve taken a break from social media, and I feel less stressed.”

Williamson was homeschooled until he entered high school and says he became interested in oratory as a middle school student. Mari-Lou Wong-Chong, a founding member of the Brunswick County Toastmasters Club and currently its secretary/treasurer, gave presentations to Southern Homeschool Educational Leadership League, a consortium of homeschooled children.
“I taught the homeschoolers for three years and saw them grow tremendously both in confidence and self-esteem,” Wong-Chong says. “Dimitry was a wonderful student.”

Dimitry Williamson oratory contest winner

“I was a very quiet kid and liked being with other classmates who struggled with being in front of groups,” Williamson says. He also encourages others to participate in oratory. “Be yourself,” he says. “Choose something you’re passionate about. Do something that has impacted your life.”

Williamson plans to attend Brunswick Community College before transferring to Appalachian State University in Boone. Neuroscience, specifically genetics, interests him, but he also may pursue fiscal policy-making for businesses. He says he entered the contest for the opportunity to win scholarship money and credits counselor Brad Carey for encouraging him.

“What I personally admire about Dimitry is that he is quiet, unassuming, cool, calm and collected but takes a pretty daunting coarse load,” Carey says. “He has a plan for his future and knows what he has to do to get there.”

Both Dimitry’s parents, Brett and Christine Williamson, are Brunswick County teachers. “I commend him for picking a topic that is both relevant and hits close to home,” his father says.

“If I convinced anyone in that room to look at mental health a little differently, it was worth it,” Williamson says.