Gabriel Marandino is a 6th-grade student at Explore Middle School. On Thursday, February 28th, during Explore’s Black History Month Celebration, Gabriel performed an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”. As he concluded his performance, he was met with a standing ovation from his peers, teachers, and esteemed members of the community.
This was not Gabriel’s first time performing one of the beloved orator’s famous speeches. Gabe has been competing in the “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Contest” at city hall since he was in the 4th grade.
This city event allows grade school students citywide to take turns performing portions of King’s greatest speeches in front of family, friends, teachers, honorary members of the community and a panel of judges. In 2017, as a 4th grader, Gabe received Honorable Mention. In 2018, he placed 3rd. This year, on the 24th, Gabriel’s performance was awarded 2nd place.
Gabe’s mother, Angela Wieczorkowski, is exceptionally proud of her son. “Gabriel was amazing, passionate, well spoken and composed at the MLK competition. Every year, he challenges himself with a new speech for the annual MLK Oratory contest, every year trying to do better, but most importantly, he learns the words and all the meaning behind them, he thinks about everything that Dr. King said, and for that, I am most proud!”
As planning began for Explore’s Black History Month Celebration, Principal Allyson Krone knew Gabe’s performance needed to be a part of the celebration as it would leave a lasting impact on everyone in the audience.
She explains, “When we discovered that Gabriel was participating in this city-wide competition, he would rehearse in my office while Ms. Velazquez coached and recorded him. After hearing him for the first time, I knew we had to include him in our Black History Month Program. It is incredibly important for us to celebrate our students' successes. His speech was so moving it brought everyone, students, staff and guests, to their feet for a standing ovation.”
“I am so grateful to all the teachers and administrators at Explore for all the support they have shown Gabriel. Ms. Velazquez mentored Gabriel, gave him pointers, and cheered him on through the process. Ms. Krone was completely supportive throughout. When I heard that every student and faculty member gave my boy a standing ovation, I cried tears of joy for my son. What Explore gave my child, the confidence and pride he felt after that, is immeasurable! It’s what I wish for, for every child!” Ms. Wieczorkowski happily shared.
As for Gabriel, though he is proud of his accomplishments and his participation in the Explore program, he is most gratified about sharing King’s message and believing it.
“When I say my speech, I think of the words. I know what I’m saying. And it really warms my heart to say this speech. I don’t just memorize the speech, I think about the words I’m saying, the word that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, and it gives more meaning to my speech. His words are very important and they make me think about what happened in only the last few decades and what people went through. No one should go through that. I feel honored to do his speeches. I felt honored to do the speech at school too.”