According to Hank Smith, “When we learn about the past, we gather strength for the future.” Naomi Vallender, of the Hampton Ward in Gilbert, would likely agree. As a third grader, Naomi was recently recognized at state level for her speech representing American heritage hero Harriet Tubman.
In December, Naomi’s teacher announced the competition and Naomi went right to work. She had learned about slavery in the United States and the Underground Railroad and was curious about the role of a woman directly involved. Naomi made her selection and wrote her speech on her own.
Her mother, Ruth Vallender, says, “She read for a couple hours online, looked at photos, then asked to go to the public library . . . she made notes, and compiled a long list of facts and life story.” Her parents helped her narrow down the list because her speech was well beyond the five minute limit for the competition.
Aside from Tubman’s notable accomplishments as a modern-day Moses, aiding hundreds of slaves out of the South and advocating for women’s rights to vote, Naomi was particularly inspired when learning about Tubman’s childhood. While she wasn’t able to include much of that due to the timeframe of her speech, she was very touched by Harriet’s rise from slavery.
Naomi says, “Look at the stuff she did. She just kept going and going.”
Ruth says, “Naomi wrote her speech, picked her outfit, and memorized it all by herself. She decided to use the Southern accent herself. She wanted brown makeup on her face to show the dirt that Harriet must have had on her face from all the hiding she did along the way. Her attention to detail was remarkable.”
In January, Naomi competed first at her school, Superstition Springs Elementary. She won first place for the K-3 grades round. She was invited to the 18th Annual District Speech Competition held at Boulder Creek Elementary in early February for Gilbert Public Schools. From there, she was invited to the state competition held on February 18 at the Mason’s Lodge. After presenting her speech for the third time, she was awarded the Rob Rimer award by Rimer himself. Rimer is the founder of the state competition 50 years ago. The distinguished award is given for best overall speech for all grades combined.
Naomi is already looking forward to competing again next year as well as to opportunities in acting. Storytelling is a beautiful art form with historical treasures.