and Lynbrook High School junior Kimberly Vaz won first and second place, respectively, in the Area 8 Rotary Club Richard D. King annual youth speech contest held Tuesday at the
The girls were joined by Campbell home-schooled senior Cooper Dauer and Sunnyvale students Annie Rak, a senior at Homestead High School in Cupertino and Christopher Magat, a freshman at Fremont High School.
The students gave five-minute speeches on the theme "reaching within to embrace humanity." To participate in the contest, the students had each won in their respective Rotary club competitions.
Flechsig, who began participating in the contest two years ago, will now compete in Rotary's southwest region contest in Morgan Hill on March 21 where she can earn up to $250, if she emerges victorious.
For their win Tuesday, Flechsig and Vaz received $200 and $100, respectively.
The students spoke about how embracing humanity is accomplished by reaching within and realizing that happiness is achieved by simple, yet powerful factors such as family, love and kindness.
"Joy is not a function of wealth, but instead an inherent aspect of being human," said Rak. "Reduce the amount you compare and increase the amount you love."
Dauer, who participated last year in the same competition, urged those in attendance to examine themselves and avoid selfishness. He also said service to others is the best way to embrace humanity.
Vaz noted how more Americans turn away from enacting change only to expect results in return and deplored the lack of volunteerism in today's society.
Those who volunteer are much less likely to become depressed even as they grow older, Vaz said. "The solution to our happiness begins with taking the initiative to make our world a better place," she added.
Magat spoke about encountering a boy in an alley while on a bike ride to downtown Sunnyvale who was fearful and hungry. While he didn't help the child, he said his image is vivid in his mind and stressed the importance of reaching out to youth, particularly those who are vulnerable.
Using Judith Viorst's children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Flechsig, 16, said how others' burdens can be lifted by words and acts of kindness.
"The enormous impact of a small gesture is too often understimated," Flechsig said, cautioning against judging others since their circumstances are unknown. "Assuming the best in people, always giving people the benefit of the doubt and being kinder than necessary is the key to building good will and better friendships."
Easwar recalled how volunteering at Good Samaritan Hospital helped her find happiness by focusing on others than on herself.