Lincolnview HS student wins State Optimist Contest

Clayton Priest, a senior at Lincolnview High School was the winner of the Ohio District – Optimist International Oratorical Contest last weekend in Columbus, receiving a $3,500 scholarship and the opportunity to participate in the 2024 Optimist International Oratorical World Championships in St. Louis in July.

Priest began his journey of competing through the various levels of Optimist speech competitions by winning the local Optimist Club of Van Wert contest on February 29. From there, he won the zone competition at Findlay in April and the regional contest held in Lima last month. Last weekend at the Ohio District Competiton, he bested regional winners from throughout the state to be the sole representative for Ohio in the national competition.

Priest will compete next at the Optimist Regional Contest at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri July 18-19. The regional scholarship award for the winner at this level is $5,000. Winners from each U.S. region move on to the World Championship Contest for a chance to win $15,000, $10,000, or $5,000 in scholarships.

The topic for the 2024 Optimist International Oratorical Contest is “How to Change the World with Optimism.” 

In his speech, Priest, references individuals from throughout history who fought to change the world fueled by a spirit of optimism such as George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Nathaniel Hale, and Rosa Parks. Then, he relates the power of optimism locally citing the example of Jody Wannemacher, the executive director of the Pregnancy Life Center Health Clinic in Van Wert.

“Mrs. Wannemacher has envisioned a world in which women in need are given the resources they need to get through pregnancy and become amazing mothers,” Priest said. “Those mothers can then go on and give their children the best possible shot at success, and so by helping others in need, Mrs. Wannemacher helps make a difference in the community for decades to come.”

The son of Nathan and Stephanie Priest, Clayton will graduate this month from Lincolnview High School. His plans are to seek a career in accounting.

Originating in 1928, the Optimist Oratorical Contest is the longest-running program sponsored by Optimist International. The contest is designed for youth to gain experience in public speaking and provide them with the opportunity to compete for college scholarships. The Optimist Club of Van Wert has offered an oratorical contest locally each year since 1981.

Priest is the third participant from Van Wert County to win the Ohio District Optimist Oratorical Contest. Clayton Harris, also from Lincolnview, was the most recent in 2020.

The Optimist Club of Van Wert is active in the community with programs and service projects that include oratorical and essay contests, after-prom events, scholarships, and bicycle safety rodeo; all of which are funded through its Avenue of Flags project that places American flags at homes and businesses during patriotic holidays.