Fifty high school students develop their voices at NIU’s 26th annual summer speech camp

Judy Santacaterina
Judy Santacaterina

It’s difficult to determine who gets more out of NIU’s annual summer speech camp — the high school students who enroll or the counselors who coach them.

About 50 students from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin participated in last week’s camp, where they developed speech-giving, debating or theatrical skills. For the 16 counselors, the camp was an excellent opportunity to mentor those who are following in their footsteps.

Arlington Heights attorney Omar Uddin was one of those campers-turned-counselors this year. From 1996 to 1998, he attended NIU’s speech camp, where he learned that being an effective public speaker calls for more than just having something to say.

“I learned confidence, and I developed my voice,” Uddin said. “The more I (participated in the camp), the more I realized how special it was for me as a person.”

Uddin wanted to show this year’s campers the same benefits, so he volunteered to work the other side of the podium.

“I wanted to teach them the same thing I learned; the way we communicate is not only how we talk but how we listen,” he said.

That message has been ringing through the halls of NIU for 26 summers since the camp began. Uddin’s enthusiasm is not unique among coaches, said camp director Judy Santacaterina, who directs bachelor’s studies in NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

During the camp, the students work individually with the coaches and in small groups with other campers. They learn diction, poise and techniques in developing an engaging stage presence.

“It was remarkable to see what students were able to do in four-days’ time,” Santacaterina said. “Some of these students really came out of their shells.”

At the end of the camp, students applied what they learned and gave speeches, dramatic readings or acted for the audience.

“One young student did a speech on the importance of freedom of speech. That was really rewarding to see. She had never given a speech before,” Santacaterina said. “To see these young people find their voice and share their message was just amazing.”

Campers also learned that a real voice has more impact than a text messages or computer chat.

“If anything, we taught them the importance of face-to-face communication,” Santacaterina said. “We taught them to put down their cell phones and stop texting long enough to make their voices heard.”

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