WHS junior balances school and competitionWHS junior Yemi Ajagbe excels in multiple competitions, while balancing school.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
It’s not uncommon for high school students to be involved in multiple extra curriculars, but competing in two competitions simultaneously on top of school? That’s what this past winter and spring has been like for Woodbury High School junior Yemi Ajagbe.
Over the course of the year, Ajagbe has had her plate full with taking post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) at the University Minnesota while participating on both the WHS Speech Team and competing in the Poetry Out Loud competition.
“I really like being active,” she said. “But, PSEO just complicates life in general.
“But when it really all builds up, I take a step back and assess the situation.”
Ajagbe’s load was recently lifted, however.
The Speech Team’s season is over, and ended with Ajagbe placing sixth in the Minnesota State High School Speech Tournament on April 21 in the Serious Poetry Interpretation category. She also wrapped up her PSEO classes on Friday.
“The speech tournament was nerve wracking, but I pulled through,” Ajagbe said. “It was a good feeling.”
Ajagbe said participating on the Speech Team and competing in the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition simultaneously throughout the year has been a challenge for her in some ways.
First of all, Ajagbe said it has been difficult to find time to prepare for both competitions, while not getting her poems mixed up between the two competitions.
For speech, Ajagbe recited “The Father” by Sharon Olds.
For Poetry Out Loud, Ajagbe competes May 13-15 in the national finals where she will recite “The End of Science Fiction,” by Lisel Mueller, “When You Are Old,” by William Butler Yeats and “Hymn to God the Father,” by John Donne.
“It can be difficult to find time to do both of them and find time to memorize both of them,” she said, “while not getting the poems mixed up.
“I really don’t even like poetry that much – I’m not really a big poetry buff – but I do like finding the meaning behind the words and delving deeper into it.”
Ajagbe said she had to prepare for both competitions differently, since the format of both competitions are different.
In speech Ajagbe had to recite one eight minute poem and in Poetry Out Loud Ajagbe had to recite three poems lasting two to three minutes.
“For speech, because there is so much to memorize and so many stanzas, it’s more like a song,” she said. “I speed up and slow down at exactly the same time in each stanza.
“But with Poetry Out Loud it’s different every time I do it.”
Since this is Ajagbe’s third season in speech, she said it is easy to fall into a pattern when it comes to reciting.
“With speech, it’s easy to fall into this format – the speech voice, the speech hand movements,” she said.
However, with Poetry Out Loud, Ajagbe said she has a greater sense of self.
“I was able to be myself fully a little bit more,” she said. “Speech has a lot more flow where Poetry Out Loud has a lot more ‘bam.’”
It is because of that freedom that Ajagbe hasn’t spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for this weekend’s Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C.
“I actually don’t want to practice too much so that I don’t fall into a pattern,” she said. “Just randomly I’ll burst into poetry if I’m feeling it or I have an emotion at the time.”
A life skill
WHS Speech Team adviser Karen Seashore said Ajagbe’s success in both speech and Poetry Out Loud can be attributed to her ability to “play it real.”
“One of the things that I think Yemi does beautifully is really play out the words of the poem in a very real manner so that everyone can understand the feelings of the character she’s portraying,” she said. “It never looks phony or fake— it’s coming from her feelings inside.”
Seashore said Ajagbe’s experiences with both speech and Poetry Out Loud will only be beneficial for her future.
“Public speaking is a skill a lot of people are afraid of,” she said. “For Yemi to find ways to overcome that fear and develop confidence – that will help her forever.”