Sophomore Kevin Huang couldn’t find any pictures online to show how much mielie-meal Nelson Mandela received a day while he was in prison for 27 years.

But that didn’t stop Huang, who did his sophomore presentation, “Nelson Mandela’s 27-year Prison Life,” on April 14.

“I thought it would be very interesting if I could cook it myself,” he said. So he did.

A picture of homemade mielie-meal was one of many pictures Huang used to give his audience of students, teachers and administrators an idea of what Mandela’s prison years were like.

Huang said he worried that when he announced to the audience that Mandela had spent roughly a third of his life in prison, it might not be that impressive.

So to illustrate, he showed pictures of a sapling and the tree it turned into in 27 years and a boy and the man he grew into 27 years later.

“Personalizing the information to make it more real to the students was a really effective tool,” judge Sue Nellis said. (Nellis added that she was speaking as an observer and not on behalf of the judges.)

Huang’s presentation took first place, Isabelle Leavy’s took second and Nicole Wolkov’s third.

Leavy discussed what she considers the “most reasonable explanation for Vincent Van Gogh’s craziness” in her presentation, “Vincent Van Gogh: Artistic Effects of Lead Poisoning.”

Leavy’s mother is an art historian, so Leavy has been around art since she was young. Additionally, she recently became interested in mental health awareness, so her topic was a natural fit.

Leavy said she was proud of getting to know her material really well.

“After my presentation, people were coming up to me and asking specific questions,” she said.

Leavy’s slides featured Van Gogh’s artwork and were marked to show characteristics of the paintings that point to Van Gogh’s having lead poisoning.

“The slides of her paintings and her explanation of them had a great visual effect,” Nellis said.

In “The Spy Game,” Wolkov contrasted espionage in the movies and espionage in reality through her discussion of Aldrich Ames’s career as a double agent.

“(Many people) think that real spying probably isn’t like (James Bond movies), but they don’t actually have anything to compare it to,” Wolkov said.

To give a point of comparison, Wolkov presented the Ames case as a story, which Nellis said gave real strength to her project.

“I was inspired (to do that) because I always enjoyed the way that Mr. (Daniel) Neukom did his lectures like a story,” Wolkov said.

Technology director Tom Wroten, who judged the first round of presentations, said his best piece of advice for next year’s sophomores was to practice.

“It can be nerve-racking to stand in front of a large audience of your peers and faculty, and the only thing to calm those nerves is to have absolute confidence in what you are presenting,” he said.

“Practice in front of the mirror and friends, and, when applicable, ask for constructive criticism.”

The presentations began with 5-7 minute speeches by all sophomores, which Wroten and English teacher Patricia Fels narrowed down to 10.

Over the summer, the sophomores read a biography of a non-American of their choice.

The presentation could be focused on any aspect of the book.

Judge Jane Bauman said she thought this was an effective strategy and yielded good results.

Wroten said each of the top 10 presenters was strong. “They provided good support and clarity in their topics, created visually interesting multimedia presentations and delivered it all with strength and confidence,” he said.

Bauman, Nellis and teacher Glenn Mangold judged the top 10 presentations.

“We look at how well (the students) do in several different categories,” Mangold said. “No one student is the best in every category. You have to weigh and balance how well they did in the different categories.”

The judges evaluate how integral the slides are to the presentation.

Additionally, the judges listen for a natural speaking style that is still standard English, Mangold said.

It’s important not to sound too rehearsed.

“The presenters should know the subject matter well enough to speak extemporaneously,” Bauman said.

They also look for a presentation with no obvious factual errors, Mangold said, and no errors of judgment or logic.

Mangold said he thought the top 10 presenters had strong judgment in terms of knowing what they could and couldn’t assert.

Finally, the message the presenters are conveying is another category.

The presentations are not graded by robots, Mangold said.

“We’re all human beings,” he said. “A powerful message that is also delivered well will have more impact.”

After presenting, Huang said he was most proud of the reaction he got from the audience.

However, he said wasn’t expecting much from the results.

At morning meeting on April 15, the judges first announced the seven finalists who did not place in the top three in alphabetical order.

As the judges kept reading names, Huang said he was thinking about which student presented what and why they could get the prize.

“I wasn’t thinking ‘I’m the only one left,’” he said. In fact, he didn’t realize it until someone yelled his name.

The crowd erupted into cheers when Huang was announced as the first-place winner.

Huang said he was very excited. “I just could not believe it for a couple of days,” he said.

And his mother couldn’t either.

“No, you are kidding me. That’s not true,” Huang said his mother told him that night on Skype.

“Yeah, you gotta believe it,” he told his mom.

Previously published in the print edition on April 28, 2015.

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