Seniors deliver Ignite speeches as culminating project


Photo by Leslie Fireman

Senior Carina Correa delivers her Ignite speech on “Why We Should Have Enjoyed Our Childhood When We Had the Chance”.

On May 6, nearly 80 seniors in Enriched World Literature assembled at West Chicago Community High School’s Learning Center to enlighten fellow students, as well as staff, with a series of 5-minute Ignite speeches.

Similar to a TED Talk, but perhaps more challenging, Ignite is a worldwide phenomenon in which presenters deliver a brief speech on a topic of their choice. According to Ignite’s website, “Speakers are given 5 minutes and 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, making for a fast and fun presentation.”

Seniors Charlene Bahnfleth and Hadi Khamsi listen to Ignite speeches in the LRC. (Photo by Leslie Fireman)

It has long been a goal of the English department to offer a culminating project at each grade level. According to Enriched World Literature teacher Kelsey Wirkus, “Mrs. Fireman and I wanted a final assessment for Enriched World Literature students to showcase their speaking skills, and be able to own their own voice (the English department motto). Mrs. Fireman was familiar with Ignite speeches, and, after I watched one, I was on board.”

Students started writing their Ignite speeches in early April, upon returning from spring break, and were given freedom to choose their own topic, which ranged from “Purposeful Challenge” to “Why You Need to Travel Before You Die” to “The Pros and Cons of Being a Twin”.

“My speech was about how most school policies, including our high school’s tardy policy, harms students instead of helping them,” said senior Joanna Trejo.

The preparation for the event began well before the spring semester: students have been strengthening their speaking and listening skills since August 2021.

Wirkus said, “The format – twenty slides auto advancing every fifteen seconds – provides just enough structure to make it a challenge but enough freedom to be able to present on any topic. This was a perfect final project for Enriched World Literature students who have been practicing their speaking skills throughout the school year.”

Senior Jimena Guerrero spoke about her upcoming trip to Hawaii in her Ignite speech. (Photo by Leslie Fireman)

In the weeks leading up to the Ignite event on May 6, students were given ample time in class to write and practice their speech, and create a Google Slides presentation that expressed their ideas. While it would have been possible for students to deliver the speeches in their individual classrooms, Wirkus and fellow Enriched World Literature teacher Leslie Fireman decided to pool all four sections of the class.

“We decided to combine all the classes for the symposium so that giving the speech felt more like an event than simply a class project,” said Wirkus.

Students were field-tripped out of their regular classes for the event, which kicked off at 8:10 a.m. on the Friday before the seniors’ last day of school. Students were grouped into 3 rooms of 26 prior to the event, and the order in which they delivered their speeches was predetermined.

“Being the first presenter in the group definitely worked in my favor, as there were no expectations set by previous presenters,” said senior Hadi Khamsi. “Preparation was no problem at all since we had countless opportunities to practice/revise our Ignite speeches in class. The speech flew by rapidly and left a voice in my head nagging me to go back up since there is just so much more left to talk about within my topic.”

Senior Gema Morales-Arias, who presented on how various systems have affected her as a minority, said, “Giving an Ignite speech made me be super precise about what I was saying and the timing. I had so much to say with such little time. I have had to do other speeches with little to no freedom. With the Ignite speech, it felt good to tell everyone my experience and how we can better the system to help all the others affected. Many people were giving silly speeches for their Ignite, but it gave me a sort of voice to speak out about these issues. I got a little shaky at times since this is such a big issue that doesn’t only affect me. I saw many people were attentive to what I was saying.”

As a treat, students were also treated to bagels, pastries, water, and a hot chocolate bar, complete with two types of hot cocoa.

Enriched World Literature students enjoy a break between speeches on May 6. (‘Photo by Leslie Fireman)

West Chicago Community High School staff members were invited to watch the speeches, and many turned out for the event, which lasted six periods. Teachers and administrators alike commented on the quality of the speeches and professionalism of the event.

“It was definitely nerve wracking. Presenting isn’t one of my strong suits, but I have my moments. I was actually really lucky to have one of the administrators there who makes sure the tardy policy is in place. Especially since the point of my speech was to not only enlighten them on why the policy is flawed, but also inform them on ways to actually help the student,” said Trejo.

Throughout the speeches, seniors rated each other, giving presenters a score out of 15 (based on the content, delivery and visual appeal of the presentation). At the end of the event, those scores were tallied, and a winner from each room was determined. While there were many strong speakers, the top scorers in each room were seniors Olivia Wesling (Room A), Patrick Kubik (Room B), and Katrina Dy (Room C).

“I was extremely happy with how the event turned out. I was so impressed by the students who, despite nerves, presented engaging and exciting speeches. My goals were definitely achieved. The seniors’ topics were so interesting, and they put in the work to write their scripts, create visually engaging slides, and present their content in an exciting way. These seniors are well prepared to present their ideas and ignite others with their voices,” said Wirkus.