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Rotary speech contest draws five contestants
2024 Rotary Speech contest
After their speeches and judging was over at Friday’s Rotary Speech Contest, all five participants gathered for this pose. Left to right are Alexander Vas Dinis, Giselle Fontes Ayala, Yurianna Garcia, Mariana Campos and Kylee Labaco. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Kylee Labaco was named the first place winner and Giselle Fontes Ayala second-place finisher in the Ceres Rotary Club’s annual student speech contest.

Five Ceres students delivered their speeches – themed on the topic of “How Does Rotary Create Hope in the World” – at Friday’s lunch meeting at the Ceres Community Center.

Third place winner status went to Mariana Campos.

Receiving honorable mentions were Yurianna Garcia and Alexander Vas Dinis.

Labaco, a Whitmore Charter High School junior, won $125 as a prize. Ceres High School junior Giselle Fontes Ayala won $100 and Mariana Campos, a Central Valley High School junior won $75 in third place.

Kylee Labaco 

First place winner Kylee Labaco, said that “in this day and age, it can be hard to be hopeful about anything.” But she went on to explain that the Rotary organization of 1.4 million members is dedicated to improve the world. 

“They strive to create stability for those less fortunate, help our environment, and clear the way for peace allowing for a glimmer of hope to shine into an otherwise deteriorating planet,” Labaco said in her speech.

She noted Rotarians have assisted in medical care, invested $148 million in water and sanitation projects and $18 million in eco-friendly projects in the past five years.

“All around the world, Rotary has constructed different projects dedicated solely to a healthier planet. Though they aren’t fixing our environmental problems, they certainly are improving our situation. Thanks to Rotary, we are able to live with the reassurance that our world won’t be ending anytime sooner than it could.”

She noted that Rotary has a project named “Promoting Peace” by teaching advocates in communities to deal with conflict.

“They are literally sending willing volunteers into these warzones to risk their lives to bring peace.”

Giselle Fontes Ayala 

Fontes explained that the first Rotarian Club was founded in 1905 and since that time its members have “dedicated their time and effort to cultivate a worldwide community of leadership and camaraderie, in which the goal for a better world is pursued through sustainable and visionary actions. Throughout the years, Rotary has promoted peace, fought disease, provided clean water, sanitation and hygiene, aided in education, protected the environment, and much more, for communities in need all around the world.

“Rotary not only wishes to change the world but actually takes action to do so, and this nature is inspiring, how amidst an often cruel and disappointing world, there do still exist people who value love and harmony, and who are willing to use their skills and resources to be of service to others, restoring our faith in humanity.

“But how does this affect its members? Well, through these selfless actions, members are rewarded with not only seeing the wonderful change they brought into the world, but also often discovering their passions and purpose along the way.”

Fontes explained the rewarding experience of being a weekly volunteer at her church, where looks after and teaches children the faith and leads a group for middle schoolers to grow in their faith, build healthy relationships and “develop their potential.”

She said her experiences have allowed her to define her goal of becoming a pediatrician “so I can first handedly attest to how serving the community – as organizations like Rotary do – not only helps shape the world, but also our own lives.

“It gives me hope to know that there are other people in the world who also firmly believe that all we need to have in common to create a lasting impact is sharing the love for people and the drive to be of change and influence in the world.”

Alexander Vas Dinis 

CHS junior Alexander Vas Dinis started off using a quote used by his grandmother, “Hope is the last

thing to die.” Explaining how she endured many hardships living in poverty in Mexico before coming to America, he said his Grandma always personified this quote, and lived as an example of how much one can achieve if they never lose hope. 

“In the same way as I see my Grandma as a beacon of hope, many people worldwide look towards Rotary in the same light, regardless of how hopeless a situation might feel,” said Vas Dinis.

Rotarians help fight diseases, promote peace in the world, and support education.

Since 1979, Rotary’s “Global Polio Eradication Initiative,” has raised more than $2.1 billion to help vaccinate the poor against polio to decrease polio cases on the globe by 99.9 percent worldwide, Vas Dinis noted in his speech.

He also pointed out how Rotarians have partnered with the Global Partnership for Education, to create lifelong learning opportunities for poor children in Kenya.

“My hope is to pursue a higher education in the field of engineering and obtain a degree at a

prestigious institute, so that one day, I may be able to do my part in helping the world, just as I’ve seen Rotary help the world. Rotary has given me and many of my peers hope that plans like mine can become a reality.”

Vas Dinis will be attending a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference.

“Although the future is uncertain, one thing that I hope to do is leave my community, and the world a better place.”

Yurianna L. Garcia

Yurianna L. Garcia explained how she has grown up with the dream of becoming an architect or defense attorney through hard work but said “as I have grown older, I have realized that many children around the world do not have the same privilege of constructing their own future, because enduring the cruel conditions of poverty, injustice, and warfare have already constructed it for them.”

She focused on Rotarians’ advocating for peace in the world.

“In 1945, Rotary was present at the founding of the United Nations and was invited to serve as one of the consultants to the U.S. delegation of the United Nations charter conference in the U.S, where Rotary members served as delegates, advisers, and consultants, working to construct resolutions and help solve conflicts between delegates. We can make the greatest impact and achieve the vision of lasting change when we work together to resolve the conflicts which pertain to humanity in order to prevent future generations from enduring the limiting barriers our children around the world face today.”

She cited the Rotary Club opening schools in Afghanistan, where girls were allowed to attend. She mentioned offering $100 million in grants to acquire cleaner water and a better education for children in Lebanese schools; efforts to end; and offering scholarships.

Mariana Campos

In speaking of Rotarians offering hope, Mariana Campos reflected on her widowed mother coming to the United States from Mexico while raising three young daughters alone.

“Our community always taught us that in this country, we could have the American Dream,” she said. “Safety, comfort, security at the highest level. 

“However, a secure home requires a secure job with a secure wage.”

“With time, I began to believe that pursuing a career in music was actually feasible. Coming from a low-income family, I feared that not affording private piano lessons would restrict me from reaching my full potential. However, the school provided me with such private classes and gave me three teachers that inspire me every day. My education system gave me the security to hope that there were enough opportunities for me as a musician.

“By pursuing a career in music, I want to inspire other first-generation students in my community to also pursue their dreams and not be afraid to start something new.

“Just like I was given the chance to hope, Rotarians all over the country have devoted their lives to give such opportunities to students.”

“Similarly, I wish to create new hope and opportunities for first-generation students in my community and show that the arts are also a fundamental part of education.”