Fanney Bjargardottir, a Turlock High School sophomore, won first place in the Rotary Club Area Speech Contest hosted Feb. 8 at the Ceres Rotary Club meeting.
Iran Torres Aleman, a Central Valley High School senior from Ceres, took second place in the contest, themed, “Be the Inspiration.” The meeting was held at the Argus Continuation High School multi-purpose room.
Both go on to compete in the Rotary District 5220 Speech Contest on March 23 at the Merced County Office of Education office. That winner goes to the May 3-5 Rotary Conference in Monterey.
Bjargardottir received a check for $175 while Torres received $125.
Bjargardottir started her speech in an unconventional manner, singing a line from Michael Jackson’s song, “I’m talking to the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways” and ending by singing the line, “because if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change.”
The Turlock High contestant explained how Rotary Club founder Paul Harris was inspired by Chicago businessmen to start a service club that would impact the world many ways. She cited the opening of safe girl schools in Afghanistan, the opening of shelters for victims of domestic violence worldwide and the polio immunization of over 2.5 billion children.
“One doesn’t have to go far for inspiration,” said Bjargardottir. “In fact, inspiration tends to find influencers, not the other way around. One act of courage, creativity or compassion inspires another, which inspires another, which in turn inspires another.”
She explained that she has been inspired by her mother, who left her native Iceland to move to New York City where she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics education. Another inspiration is cited was that of former First Lady Michelle Obama and countless women in the field of science. Bjargardottir said as a Girl Scout she has baked pumpkin pies for the homeless and made blankets for the animal shelter and now wants to foster a program where teens visit convalescent homes. Because her grandmother has suffered from the disease, Bjargardottir wants to promote Alzheimer’s awareness and aspires to become a medical researcher to examine memory related disease.
“I hope that my smaller actions inspire as well – like when I merely cannot refrain from responding to some racist or sexist needless comments that my classmates can make,” said Bjargardottir. “Big or small, I am here, I am ready to be the inspiration.”
Torres Aleman suggested that inspiration is a process.
“First, be inspired. Then take action,” said Iran. “And finally, become the inspiration to others.”
She said at a recent Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp she heard many inspirational speakers and “for the first time felt inspired to take action and create a difference in someone else’s life.”
“We should constantly be reminding others why they matter to us and not only that, make them feel like they matter in this world,” said Iran. “I know it is easy to tell people like our parents or our siblings why they matter to us but the true change is created when we’re able to remind others, like complete strangers, or even people we don’t like, why they do matter.”
She thanked the Rotary Club for being the first organization to inspire her to take action to improve the lives of others. Iran left the camp and joined a campus spiritual club which took up a toy collection for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Sacramento. She helped advertise the effort on social media and posting flyers and attending club meetings. Iran led by example and donated toys to get others interested. The toys that went to the children at Christmas time was intended to show that they matter to someone they didn’t know beside relatives.
At the hospital she learned more about the Shriner’s mission and was inspired to do more.
“Previous I knew that I wanted to be a doctor but I wasn’t sure in what area I would specialize in. But standing there at that hospital, I knew for the first time in my life that I wanted to help children.
“This entire experience has shown me that it is possible to create a change in someone’s life for the better. Without realizing it, I became the inspiration for other students as soon as they saw how invested and committed I was by my projects.”
She wrapped up her speech saying: “I have come to believe that inspiration can come at you at any moment – even in the middle of a hospital. To be the inspiration, you must first feel the desire to create a change in someone else’s life. It is only after these selfless kinds of actions that others too will become inspired to create a difference in the world as well.”
Iran told the group that she has applied to colleges to become a Biology major but is planning to attend a University of California, possibly Merced, Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles.
Bjargardottir has lived in Turlock for nearly six years. At Turlock High she participates in Speech and Debate classes as well as Mock Trials. She is a black belt in Taw Kwon Do.