A voice for the voiceless

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel,” wrote the 19th Century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is a principle Joeys Year 12 student Bernard Lund has applied to his own public speaking, having recently won the prestigious Lawrence Campbell Oratory competition with a moving oration on his brother’s autism. It was a magnificent achievement and a source of great pride to the College, which places great value on oratory as a cocurricular activity.

Indeed it was the sixth time that a Joeys boy had triumphed, with previous winners including The Hon. Murray Gleeson AC QC, former Chief Justice of Australia, in 1953 and 1955.

The competition, which features students from GPS and CAS schools, gives speakers 15 minutes to prepare for one of three topics before they deliver an eight-minute speech that is judged according to the “Three Ms”: manner, method and matter. Bernard chose “my voice is my sword”.

It was an opportunity to speak with passion about Edgar, his non-verbal, autistic brother, a subject close to his heart. “My focus was on how people use their voice almost as a weapon to silence people who have a disability and are unable to speak,” Bernard says.

Bernard Lund (Y12) won the prestigious 2021 Lawrence Campbell Oratory competition held at Waverley College.

To draw listeners into Edgar’s world, he cited the example of a café waitress asking his brother to choose something from a menu. “When he can’t say what he wants and points at the menu, she looks past him and asks me, as if he isn’t even there.” 

Later in his speech he posited the idea of using less verbal communication in order to hear the voices of those who are silent. Of relying on empathy to understand people who appear different to us.

My focus was on how people use their voice as a weapon to silence people who have a disability and
are unable to speak.

It was a captivating oration that spoke volumes for his love for his brother, and his desire to promote better awareness of autism.

Public speaking is in Bernard’s blood. His mother, Teresa, and father, Rohan, are both accomplished orators and Bernard, a self-confessed extrovert, is a member of Joeys debating squad. He says good oratory is not about “witty expressions and fancy words” – how you express yourself – but the passion and care you bring to what you’re articulating. 

Clockwise from top left: Past Joeys winners of the Lawrence Campbell Oratory competition Anthony Gallagher (1947), Murray Gleeson (1953 and 1955), Chris Mangan (1980) and Simon Marks (1977).

“Speaking about Edgar was very personal to me. It made what I was saying feel natural and then the words just come to you. The secret is to focus less on whether you feel brave enough to speak in front of people and more on how passionate you are about the subject. Because if you are, the crowd and nerves fade away.”

Oratory and debating convenor Ms Donna Curtis attributes Bernard’s success to his “ability to articulate ideas with precision and his genuine concern for others”.

“He captured the audience’s attention and took them to unfamiliar territory, evoking their empathy and compassion.”

She says oratory is a fantastic skill to have because it develops clarity of expression and is a basic ingredient of effective leadership.

Bernard has been reaping the benefits in class. His essay writing has improved and he feels much more confident in generating ideas and articulating concepts. It’s also brought him closer to his schoolmates.

Above: Two-time Lawrence Campbell winner The Hon. Murray Gleeson AC QC (1955) with 2018 winner Jack Issa and Headmaster Dr Chris Hayes (2018-20).

“I gave a similar speech to the one I did for the Lawrence Campbell in front of my year group and it was great to speak about something that was a different issue and to have them understand where I’m coming from.”

Of course, nothing of value comes without hard work. 

Joeys’ debating squad requires Bernard spend at least five hours every week honing his polemic skills and speechcraft.

“Like a sport, oratory must be developed through practice,” says Ms Curtis.

Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “All great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

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