MHS students assume roles of historical figures
By Matthew Stewart| (firstname.lastname@example.org)
What would our historical figures say if they were alive today?
Maryville High School juniors tried to answer that question Thursday in their personae speeches.
Students in Dr. Penny Ferguson’s and Mark White’s Advanced Placement English and U.S. history classes assumed the identities of historical figures — such as Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama — and delivered three-minute speeches about present-day topics. They addressed issues, such as the Libyan consulate attack, the war on terrorism, human trafficking and economic recovery.
Students were required to analyze and study four speeches/passages from their selected person’s life, Ferguson said. They later wrote speeches using their historical figure’s voice, style and rhetoric.
Alexis Bradby portrayed former U.S. Rep. Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm. The congresswoman was the first woman and the first black person to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
In character, Bradby questioned standardized testing.
“Tests in school are important because they measure growth and knowledge,” she said. “However, given constantly without time for growth or learning, tests are pointless. Is the point of school not to learn? Is the point of school not to grow as a person? Is the point of school not to prepare for the real world? The machine-like ritual students go through for standardized tests takes away the purpose of going to school.”
Bradby later urged action. “Ladies and gentlemen, if we do not fix the problems with standardized tests, we will have a government in the future that can only choose a solution if it is labeled A, B, C or D.”
War on terrorism
Joseph Morrison portrayed Eisenhower, the 34th U.S. president.
“It was on September 11, 2001, that the age of complete innocence had come to an end,” he said. “It was on this date that al-Qaida, as well as many other terrorist organizations declared war upon our nation and its allies. It was on this very date that we lost countless lives to the War on Terror. Even though this tragic event took place over 10 years ago, this threat still remains a constant risk regarding not only national, but global safety. Throughout the past decade we have lost countless lives to the War on Terror, lives that did not deserve to be taken and lives that are now irreplaceable.”
Morrison later argued that terrorism isn’t going away. “The unfortunate situation is that terrorism is not coming to an end in the near future; the unfortunate situation is the fact that everyone in the world is at risk. However, there are possible solutions to these circumstances that we all detest so much. We, the human race, must come together as one in order to work with nations that are undeveloped and teach them on how to resist this ongoing battle; we must create prosperity with the competent states; we must persuade and compel the unwilling; we must act now. In order for our future generations to prosper we must accept the face that we have to take it upon ourselves in order to create a more perfect world.”
He then challenged audience members to act now. “Under the unification of every national government, we can create peace. Peace is the answer to our problems. It is not the only answer; we can ignore it and put our efforts into other pointless tasks, but the point is: peace is the only right answer.”
Students were pleased with the project.
“This project was really fun,” said Sam Paganelli, who portrayed Mandela. “We conducted library research, learned about our people and read and watched their speeches. All of it led up to today.”
“Normally, we have to write our own thoughts,” Bradby said. “It was very interesting to think about what our people would say and create their arguments.”
“It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about people who have played major roles in world history,” said Tristan Smith, who portrayed Obama.