Kevin Barry is a young man who possesses quite a way with words. Whether it’s in writing or verbally, his ability to self-express set him apart from the competition in two recent contests.
A student at Marco Island Academy, he outdid more than 50 other participants to win the Optimist Club of Marco Island’s 2020 Essay Contest. He then moved on to the South Florida District Essay Contest where his essay again captured first place. The victories saw Barry come away with $2,750 in prize money.
His linguistic skills also served him well in the Marco Optimist Club’s inaugural oratorical contest. A first-place finish again qualified Barry for the district level competition where his speech was judged to be number one. And he again earned a total of $2,750 for the dual victories.
The Marco resident’s streak of first-place finishes ended at the Optimist’s Southeast Regional oratorical competition, where he represented the South Florida district. Held July 16, and like the club and district levels versions, it was conducted via the internet. Barry competed against youths from districts in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Florida and the Caribbean. At stake was a $5,000 scholarship for the winner, with prizes also going to the first and second runner ups.
At press time, Barry only knew he hadn’t won, but no other results had been announced.
“So, I am not exactly sure about my actual place,” he said. “Nevertheless, it was a really fun experience that taught me about all of the new online aspects of public speaking, so I am grateful for it.”
The theme for the 2020 essay contest was “Is Optimism the Key to Achieving the Dreams You Imagined?” while the topic for the speech competition was: “Just Imagine a World without Boundaries.” Both sparked Barry’s imagination.
He explained that the contest theme was intriguing because, “The Optimists with their contest prompts, they always have the word ‘imagine’ in it so it makes you kind of take an introspective tone, compared to other essays.”
Composing the winning essay took just one day, unlike Barry’s speech, which took multiple days to compose.
“A world without boundaries is such a broad topic,” he said. “I decided to take an optimistic, uplifting route, similar again to a Martin Luther King or a Barrack Obama speech.”
Barry took the same approach to his essay, which he described as in some ways, evoking the spirit of one of King’s speeches.
“I kind of didn’t write it as an essay,” he explained. “I kind of wrote it as a speech, especially the final paragraph. I was trying to take inspiration from great orators or great spokespeople or politicians of the past.”
Barry has a long-held love of utilizing language, whether it’s by commanding attention through public speaking or through the written word. He’s taken part in other oratory contests, such as the Collier County Laws of Life Essay Contest for high school students, which has a discussion element. Barry finished fourth in his category this year and he took first place as a fifth grader.
Composing essays sends his creative juices into overdrive.
“Honestly, I like the process of starting with a blank page,” said the son of Travis and Kim Barry. “You get your first ideas down on paper. Sometimes I might have ten different versions of an essay that I keep trying to perfect before I finally reach the final product. I feel that it’s just really rewarding once you reach that final stage.”
Jayme Lowe, secretary and contest chairman for the Optimist Club of Marco Island, said the contest committee has been impressed by Barry’s appreciation of the importance of an opportunity to take part in a worldwide competition.
“He simply gives it his all and is very well–spoken when delivering his speech which is well written,” she said. “He is a natural leader, and will no doubt do great things for our community and beyond in the future. We are very proud to support him in this endeavor.”
Barry will be a senior at MIA, where plays guard on the basketball team, runs track and takes part in cross country. He’s also a member of the school’s Key Club and the National Honor Society.
Check the next edition of Coastal Breeze News for the full winning essay.
For more information about the Optimist Club of Marco Island, visit mioptimistclub.org.