When a friend suggested Ethan Sutton join a Lowell High School business club this year, he thought, “Why not? It should look good on a resume.”
It will indeed. By May, Ethan found himself in an Orlando, Fla. hotel, in the national finals of an extemporaneous speech competition sponsored by the Business Professionals of America. His topic: Do you believe the American dream is still alive and achievable?
He had 10 minutes to write his speech and then deliver it to a panel of judges. Advice from his mother, Darla, a company’s director of operations, helped him make his pitch.
“You’re not only selling your topic to the judges, you’re selling yourself,” says Ethan, a senior. “You have to think on your feet and make a positive impression, even if on the inside you’re dying.”
Ethan doesn’t know how his speech was ranked — only the top 10 finishers were named. But he is proud of having qualified by winning the state competition in March, where he also competed with an economic research project that ranked seventh in its category.
“It was a big honor to represent Lowell,” Ethan says. “Going to nationals was bigger than anything I ever expected.”
Keeping the dream alive
Business Professionals of America is a youth organization that provides leadership and business opportunities for high school students to help them make decisions about their careers. Ethan is headed to Albion College with an interest in business administration and economics.
He enjoyed participating in the Lowell chapter of BPA, whose adviser is business teacher Kathy Homer. Going to the organization’s national leadership conference at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel was an unexpected bonus.
Ethan got a kick out of meeting students from across the country who had similar interests. But the speech competition was tough. He picked up two cards from many that were laid face-down and chose the American dream question. He had done some reading on the topic.
“I do think the American dream is still alive,” he says. “It just takes hard work.”
So did his speech. But when the top 10 were announced, he noticed two of them were runners-up to him in the state competition.
“Optimistically, I like to think I was right there in the 10 to 20 range, but I will never know,” he says, then adds with a laugh, “I lie awake at night.”