Five students from the Lee County School District recently returned from the 33rd annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics - ACT-SO - in Los Angeles with smiles on their faces because they had the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a slew of judges.
ACT-SO was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from July 20-24 with more than 2,000 students in attendance. The competition was held from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., providing each student with the opportunity to showcase their talent for up to five minutes.
The categories students could perform in included science with eight sub-categories; humanities with four sub-categories; performing arts with seven sub-categories; visual arts with six sub-categories and one sub-category under business.
Cypress Lake High School junior Quinton Thomas, Fort Myers High School senior Keana Jordan, East Lee County High School graduate Jasmine Tonge, Oasis High School sophomore Sage Meyers and Oasis High School senior Tyler Omundsen recently returned from the 33rd annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics in Los Angeles.
The concept of ACT-SO was originally presented in 1976 by Vernon Jarrett to the Chicago area, which then changed to a national audience due to the program wanting to serve more youths. Two years later the first National ACT-SO competition was held in Oregon with participation from seven cities.
Thirty-one states were represented during the competition last month. ACT-SO, which has predominantly been held for African American students, changed this year with the participation of two students, who are Caucasian, who attend Oasis High School.
"They were so accepting," said Oasis High School senior Tyler Omundsen, who sang contemporary music, about his experience. "They didn't care. That made it special for me."
The other four students who participated in the annual competition and awards ceremony from the Lee County branch included Sage Meyers, sophomore at Oasis High School participated in dramatics; Quinton Thomas, a junior at Cypress Lake High School sang classical music; Jasmine Tonge, recent graduate of East Lee County High School performed a dance and Fort Myers High School senior Keana Jordan sang contemporary music.
"They will never forget it," Darlene Mitchell, vocal coach for ACT-SO and president of Darlene and Friends, Inc. said about their experience in Los Angeles. "It is incredible, an unbelievable journey that they never thought they would see."
Meyers said the competition in Los Angels taught her not to always think she is going to walk away with an award. She said the ACT-SO competition gave her the opportunity to get her name out there.
"I'm going to do it again this year," Meyers said, smiling.
Once she was on stage, she performed a dramatic piece, "Dialogue of the God's" for three minutes in front of judges. Nerves, she said, did not affect her too much while performing her dramatic piece because she stayed very focused, while trying to do everything her coach taught her.
"I thought I did very well," Meyers said.
Her future goal is to become a Broadway actress.
Omundsen said overall the experience was a pretty good one because he has never performed at a competition of that size before. He said being able to show his talent out of the state opened his eyes to the other talents and views out there.
He spent four minutes on stage singing "Stars." He chose that song because it was the first powerful song he had ever sung during a competition three years ago. The song, which took him through a lot of emotions, is about a parol officer and a convict.
Although he experienced some nervousness when he saw the judges and heard what their backgrounds were, he took away a new lesson about himself.
"I learned to have a sense of pride," he said due to the positive feedback he received from the judges, along with his experience. "It gave me confidence to do the best I can."
Once he finishes high school, Omundsen plans on attending college to learn more about the performing arts so he can become a teacher at the high school and later at the college level.
Mitchell said the judges were very impressed by the students.
"They were so impressed with our students to be coming in for the first time and the confidence of going in," she said. "They were well received for their talent."
The five students had the mindset that they were going into the competition as a winner already, she said.
Mitchell said the students received excellent ratings. When looking at their evaluations, it indicated to her that they were all medal winners, although they did not place due to the number of students competing in the various categories.
The Oasis High School students also had the opportunity to participate in the national choir for the finale.
Mitchell said they all made some lasting relationships and friendships while in Los Angeles.
Both of the Oasis High School students plan on trying out for ACT-SO again this year.