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Two compete in Rotary’s District speech contest
• Central Valley High’s Paulina Bennett earns second-place prize
Speech contestants
Turlock High School junior Jackson Thomas won first place and $175 in the Rotary District 5220 Area 12 speech contest on Friday while Central Valley High School senior Paulina Bennett received second place and $125.

The Rotary Club of Ceres hosted the District 5220 Area 12 speech contest representing Ceres and Turlock area high schools in Friday with Turlock High School junior Jackson Thomas winning first place and $175. Coming in second place was Central Valley High School senior Paulina Bennett, who received $125 in prize money.

Participating students were to incorporate the 2019-20 Rotary International Presidential theme of “Rotary Connects the World” to guide their speeches.

The speeches were also to include how Rotarians and Rotary Clubs make an impact both locally and globally.

Jackson will represent Area 12 at the District 5220 finals on March 21 at the Merced Unified School District office. The District-level first-place winner will receive $1,000 and present their speech at the District Conference on April 25 at Yosemite’s Tenaya Lodge.

Thomas quoted author John C. Maxwell who wrote that, “A big man is one who makes us feel bigger when we are with him.” 

“People naturally want to be around those who make them feel bigger, so leaders who do so build up a connected community of individuals around them,” he said. “Such a community, created through leadership and oriented around service, can have a profound positive impact on a local, national, or even global scale.”

He said the Rotarians have acted as a “global leader in service” by vaccinating 2.5 billion children against polio to nearly eradicate the disease; bringing education to underdeveloped areas; and providing clean water to many who lack such a basic resource. 

“Being a true leader is using the platform that you are given to connect people, making them feel ‘bigger.’ This is what Rotary has done and what I look to do in my own life.”

He explained that he aspires to unite and serve through his leadership efforts of the faith-based Young Life Club on his Turlock campus.

“I have traveled to the Tenderloin district of San Francisco to work with an organization called YWAM (Youth With a Mission) to provide the homeless with food, clothing, and a community to be a part of. This spring, I have the opportunity to travel to Athens, Greece and serve refugees there with an organization called CosmoVision. As a member of these service opportunities, I have felt a connection to a greater community fostered through service and the leadership of the organizations I am working with.”

In her speech, “The Importance of Leadership and Service,” Paulina noted how leaders must serve people. She noted how she served as a lifeguard for the city of Ceres Community aquatics program and taught children how to swim and how she encouraged one student to overcome fear and dive in the deep end.

“Without the ability of leadership, I would not have been able to influence that little boy to recognize his capability of being able to accomplish what he thought was impossible.”

She noted how Rotarians, through their Rotary-USAID partnership has helped to supply healthy water to those in Ghana, Madagascar and Uganda. Rotary also supports education by creating a girls’ school in Afghanistan.

“Rotary’s actions of community service are extremely important to me because of how they are empowering women’s education and by helping others to obtain the resources that are necessary for human life,” said Bennett. She said watching Rotarians inspires her to be “more involved in helping communities all over the world.”

Aspiring to go into a law enforcement career, Paulina said she wants to help her community by “offering protection and ensuring their safety. Most of my dreams consist of me becoming someone who inspires others and who can lead people to do great things.

“There are numerous horrible things in this world, but true leaders who help in times of need, are one of the few good things about society. The world needs leaders to impact everyone to be good people and help those that need it the most. All though not everyone will want to take on the leadership role or to serve communities, I will try to be the best leader that I can be.”