By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Teenager Joy Ripslinger’s flawlessly delivered speech on the inspiring life story of media giant Oprah Winfrey earned first place in a national speech contest that drew more than 100,000 entries.
Now a freshman at Assumption High School in Davenport, Joy watched the videotape of her winning performance Oct. 1 at her alma mater, John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport, during a special assembly there.
Modern Woodmen of America sponsors the annual School Speech Contest and JFK students have been enthusiastic participants for a number of years. Joy was an eighth-grader at JFK when she submitted her winning entry, which reflected on the contest’s theme: “A person who has overcome.”
Joy believes that many people aren’t aware of the struggles Oprah endured as a child: racism, poverty, a dysfunctional family life and sexual abuse. “Living through a powerless, hopeless, and horrific childhood, Oprah Winfrey has overcome and persevered to become one of our world’s brightest beacons of hope and inspiration,” Joy says in her speech.
Modern Woodmen Financial Representative Ruth Ahnen presented a first-place plaque to Joy and another one to JFK School during the assembly. Principal Chad Steimle spoke with pride about Joy’s accomplishment, and the school’s overarching commitment to excellence for all of its students. “We have that culture that pushes us to succeed,” Steimle said.
Joy credits civic oration classes at JFK (required in fifth through eighth grade) with her success in public speaking. “I was pretty shy as a young girl. Civic oration helped me to break out of my shell,” Joy told The Catholic Messenger. Now she sees public speaking as one of her talents.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Joy doesn’t think she could count the hours she spent researching, writing, revising and rehearsing her speech about Oprah. She practiced in front of her family, her teacher, her classmates. “It became better each time,” Joy said. Julie Bauer, a JFK teacher who taught Joy in seventh and eighth grade, was a big help. “I really improved with her,” Joy added. “Support is a big thing.”
She has excellent family support. Parents Tracy and Joe Ripslinger are committed to their faith and to service, and they pass that on to their children, notes Julie.
Learning that Joy had won the speech contest was “awesome,” says Tracy, who attended the assembly. She’s glad her daughter chose such a special role model for the speech. “Oprah was able to turn her life around when she asked for God’s help.” Joy was intrigued by Oprah, but didn’t know her story until doing research, Tracy adds.
Joy observes in her speech that “The Oprah Winfrey Show allowed (Oprah) to help people battling racism, poverty, and abuse that nearly ruined her life. As she puts it, ‘I am the instrument of God. I am his messenger … my show is his ministry.’”
Oprah was put on this earth for one main reason — to inspire, says Joy, who in turn is inspiring her peers. “She has been a role model,” Julie says.