The 56th JNSA Trophy All Japan Intercollegiate English Oratorical Contest / Waseda University Sophomore Wins Top Prize

Courtesy of JNSA fund
Maoko Suzuki, right, receives the trophy from Princess Takamado at the 56th JNSA Trophy All Japan Intercollegiate English Oratorical Contest on July 7.

Maoko Suzuki, a sophomore at Waseda University, has won the top prize at this year’s JNSA (Japan National Student Association) Trophy All Japan Intercollegiate English Oratorical Contest.

In a speech titled “Failure or Success?,” Suzuki described her own experience in which she considered herself a failure and told her story of how she keep challenging herself. Her entry was part of the 56th speech contest that was held on July 7 at The Yomiuri Shimbun headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The runners-up, in descending order, were: Rei Hasegawa of Waseda University; Yuto Yamada of Waseda University; Miki Ozawa of Meiji University; Jotaro Sakai of Sophia University; Rinka Takahashi of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology; and Makaha Sawai of Osaka University.

The contest was supported by The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News.

The following is the full text of Suzuki’s speech:

Why am I standing on this stage right now? Is it because I am the member of the JNSA fund? That is correct. It is because I like making a speech? That is also correct.

But the real reason goes back to when I was in elementary school. Seven years ago, I considered myself a “failure.” However, that “failure” led me to this stage.

Many children in Japan face the pressure to get into highly competitive elite middle schools. This is especially true in Tokyo, where I grew up and went to elementary school. So, since the age of ten, I studied extremely hard to pass the entrance examination to a well-known elite school. On the day of the examination, I did my best but failed. To make it worse, I had to move to the countryside because of my father’s job. I had no choice but to go to the local middle school in a town where I was a stranger. It was a struggle to make friends in an unfamiliar environment. I fell to rock bottom with disappointment.

A few months later, I found a letter from my teacher at my old school in Tokyo. It said, “Be ambitious.” These words saved me. I said to myself, “Be resilient. Get over it. Take action.” I quit dwelling on my failure and started looking for something I could do in my given situation. One of my biggest challenges was to participate in an English speech contest.

In the local middle school, students were reluctant to speak in English. Of course, when the teacher mentioned applying for an English speech contest, their immediate reaction was “no.”

When I was 15, there was an English assignment to give a one-minute speech. My topic was “my motto” and I spoke about my experience in elementary school and how the word “Be ambitious” helped me through life. After class, my English teacher asked me if I would be interested in applying for the City’s English Speech Contest. My first reaction was “no.” I was scared to do something that others refused. But the word “be ambitious” sparked a strong signal, “Go for it!” “Seize the opportunity.” I practiced hundreds of times and I became increasingly confident in my English speech.

Joining the contest was an excellent opportunity for me. Not only did it help me build my confidence but also gave me the joy of listening to others and interacting with them. As a result, I won first prize in both the city and prefectural contests and was able to advance to the national contest.

Although I did not win the national contest, this experience gave me a strong passion for public speaking. Right now, I am devoting much of my time to organizing the English speech contest in which I competed in middle school days. Nearly a hundred thousand middle school students from all over Japan participate every year.

Thanks to “my motto,” I chose the path to “be ambitious.”

Ambition has brought me to where I am now. I have come a long way since elementary school. I am now delivering my speech on this stage in front of many lovely people.

Life is a series of choices.