GENEVA -- Mother's Day has passed and Father's Day is still a few weeks away, but on May 10 dozens of parents received heartfelt gifts from their children, who were competing in DeSales High School's 2011 Oratorical Contest. Through their speeches that evening, the students reflected on the importance of the Fourth Commandment, which instructs all to honor their parents.
Emily Neubecker, a seventh-grader at St. Mary School in Canandaigua, summed up many of her fellow contestants' thoughts in one sentence.
"Our parents are everything to us," Emily said.
"Without them we would be lost," agreed Ian Tulloch, an eighth-grader at St. Michael School in Newark.
Twenty-four students from four Catholic elementary schools participated in the Geneva high school's annual contest, which was judged by a panel of current and former DeSales teachers and staff, as well as two current DeSales seniors. The 24 contestants not only gave eloquent, articulate speeches, but they also spoke from the heart with great honesty and sincerity, noted Gerald Macaluso, DeSales' principal.
"The reason they are able to speak like this is because of what the adults in their lives have done for them," Macaluso told the parents, relatives and friends present at the contest's conclusion. "That came out of the love for each of you that have guided them. They evolved because of the day-to-day love and guidance that you adults have shown them."
It's easy for kids and teens to focus on the negative, and only recognize the ways their parents hold them back or prevent them from having fun, noted Walter Hennings, a seventh-grader at St. Mary. In his presentation, however, he argued against this way of thinking.
"Your parents are the most important people in your life," Walter said. "Yes, parents can be embarrassing on occasion, but if you stop to wonder what your life would be like without your parents, you might start to appreciate them."
For this reason, the Fourth Commandment is one of the most important commandments of all, said Megan Guererri, a seventh-grader at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva.
"Think about it. Where would you be without your mother and father? Probably not in a Catholic school. Probably not in a school at all. You could be on the street somewhere, or maybe even dead," Megan said.
Eighth-grader Ryan Kreuser of St. Michael said he respects his parents because they gave him life. St. Michael's seventh-grader Adam Zeger agreed, and said all of God's children should respect each other.
Children show respect for their parents in different ways as they grow older, said Michael Campbell, an eighth-grader at St. Mary. When he was younger all he wanted to do was obey his parents, he recalled.
"Now in the present it is much, much more difficult to do that," Michael added.
"I honor my parents by thanking them for all they have given to me," said eighth-grader Kiana Simons of St. Mary.
Henry John, a St. Francis-St. Stephen seventh-grader, said that as a young boy he honored his parents by imitating everything they did. Henry opened his speech by reading Luke's account of Jesus' parable of the sower and the seeds, and theorized that children -- and especially teens -- are a lot like plants.
"I'm no longer a young sprout but not yet a blossoming plant, no longer a young child but not yet an adult," Henry said. "I honor my parents by keeping a transparent relationship with them. Keeping secrets from them would be like covering my plant with a basket."
Henry, who won first-place in the seventh-grade contest, said his parents provided good, fertile ground in which his seed could grow and flourish. Eighth-grader Michelle Nardozzi of St. Francis-St. Stephen also praised the example her parents have given her by caring for their own elderly parents.
"I see the ways in which my mother and father honored their parents. They taught us to love our parents as well as show compassion, sympathy and empathy for them," Michelle said. "My family always has been and always will be the most important thing in my life."
Michelle's twin sister, Christina, agreed.
"My parents mean everything to me. They have not only been my parents, they have also been my friends, and I think that is the greatest compliment you can give to them," she said. "You don't get to choose your parents. They are God's gifts to you."
Christina and Michelle's heartfelt speeches resonated with the judges. Michelle was the second-place winner in the eighth-grade competition, and Christina won the first-place prize of a $1,000 scholarship from DeSales. Both girls plan to attend DeSales next year.