In October of 2005, Selwyn House hosted the International Independent Schools’ Public Speaking League (IISPSL) competition, where 170 of the most talented students from independent high schools in Australia, Scotland, England, Cyprus, Bermuda, the United States and Canada competed. Keynote speaker for the awards banquet of this event was a young Justin Trudeau, in his pre-political days. He had been invited by Kathleen (Kathi) Biggs, Head of the Selwyn House Senior English Department, and host of the competition.The 2005 article below reveals a great deal about the man who has just been re-elected prime minister and what his personal views were 14 years ago.
Trudeau an inspirational prankster
By Richard Wills, Publications Editor
It was horrible.
Justin Trudeau, scion of what has been called Canada’s royal family, who inspired his countrymen with the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of his father—himself the most eloquent of Canada’s Prime Ministers—had consented to give the keynote speech at the awards banquet of the International Independent Schools’ Public Speaking League (IISPSL) competition at Selwyn House. Surely this dashing and energetic young fellow would dazzle us all with what he had to say.
But, when Trudeau came to the podium and began to mumble his way through a pedantic ramble about the importance of oratorical abilities in ancient Greece and Rome, fidgeting and scratching, once or twice glancing up at his audience like a deer in the headlights, our hearts sank and surely every person in the room wanted to crawl under the table and hide.
After a few agonizing lines of this, a nervous titter began to spread across the room, then quickly grew to the boiling point and broke into a round of laughter and applause as the relieved audience got the joke.
Flashing a broad, mischievous grin, Trudeau instantly snatched the microphone from its stand and began to stalk the stage, launching into an impassioned motivational speech unlike anything heard at Selwyn House in recent memory.
“I figured you guys had seen so much smooth talking over the past couple of days that I had to at least give Kathi [Biggs, Head of Senior School English Department and IISPSL host] a bit of a heart attack,” he explained with a chuckle.
His father must have been pirouetting in his grave.
“It’s been drilled into you that you are the leaders of tomorrow,” he told his young audience, delivering the last four words in a Darth Vader voice. “You are the leaders of today,” he corrected. “The choices you make—the things that you decide to do, the topics that you decide to wax so eloquently about—matter.”
He recounted his own experience in school debating, how he learned that speaking skills alone are not enough, that one must use his ability to promote the values he truly believes in.
“I realized,” he said, “that to get up and say things so passionately and enthusiastically and convince people of this and that and get them to vote for me and have people say ‘Oh wow wasn’t he a great speaker’—wasn’t enough.”
He challenged the young rhetoricians to go beyond the form of their art and tackle the important issues of the day.
“You are here because you are effective communicators,” he said, “but wouldn’t it be nice if you had something to say? You do. Everyone in this room has a powerful voice. Start addressing the real issues.”
He threw down the gauntlet to the bright young minds in his audience. “What are you doing right now to make the world a better place?” he asked. “The ability to communicate, the ability to persuade, the ability to lead with your voice, is an extraordinary gift. What are you are going to do with these gifts?”
He warned his listeners to avoid the common tendency to let someone else worry about the big picture. “There is no one else,” he said.
He urged the young public speakers from around the world to return to their home countries and think about citizenship and what it means.
“Citizenship,” he said, “allows one to make bigger choices than just for yourself.
“We’re counting on you to make the right choices.”