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April 14, 2010  

Take the Lead public speaking contest awards winner with free tuition for 1st year at Brescia

MPP Deb Matthews, Natasha Raval, Dr. Colleen HanyczLondon, ON – Natasha Raval inspired the panel of celebrity judges and others in the audience when she delivered the speech that won the top prize at Brescia University College’s second annual Take the Lead public speaking contest on April 10.

“When I heard my name being announced as the winner, my first thought was definitely pure surprise. I was confident that I had done well but at the same time I knew I was facing some very tough competition. Having my name called as the winner just felt surreal. That’s the moment I knew that it was all worth it,” Raval said afterwards.

Raval, a Grade 11 student of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School in London, won full tuition for her first year at Brescia. The contest was sponsored by the Institute for Women in Leadership (iWIL) at Brescia for young women in Grades 11 and 12 who researched and presented on the topic of women in leadership, in keeping with Brescia’s commitment to help develop women who choose to lead.

Dr. Colleen Hanycz, Principal of Brescia University College, said that she would be proud to welcome any of the contestants to Brescia. “The caliber of each of these speeches was outstanding. To see the intense focus that the next generation has on critical issues of leadership gives me great confidence in the future. It has been a gift to hear the passion and creativity that each of these young women has brought to this competition.”

The Honourable Deb Matthews, MPP, offered words of praise and encouragement, as the guest speaker at the event. “I am delighted to be here. I am inspired and I am buoyed and I am so enriched when I hear young women speaking from their heart, about their values, and about their dreams, and about their commitment to the future.”

All contestants were judged on content and delivery in a preliminary round by Brescia staff, faculty members, and community leaders, and then the top six moved on to the final round. Second place was awarded to Christine Peet of Bishop Ryan C.S.S. in Hamilton and the third-place prize went to Taylor Woodburn of West Elgin Secondary School in West Lorne. All contestants were cheered on by family, friends, teachers, and coaches in the audience.

Raval said that her effort and performance are only half of the story behind her win. She is grateful to her family, guidance counsellor, and public speaking/English teacher who encouraged her to compete to attend Canada’s premier women’s university with a significant scholarship. “I have always heard about the amazing sense of community and spirit that Brescia is known for. But being there for the competition, I really got to experience all the great energy that just surrounds the campus. I met so many strong women who are leaders in their own fields and all of them had a story to share, each one unique and each one profound. I am really looking forward to knowing that I will soon be a part of such a special group of women and young women.”

The following panel of celebrity judges determined the winners: Gina Barber, controller with the City of London; Andrea Dunn, afternoon show host, FM96; Mary Lou Finlay, journalist, writer, broadcaster; Joan Francolini, O.ONT., chair of Brescia University College Foundation; Cynthia Good, director of Creative Book Publishing, Humber College; Sheriann Heath-Johnson, BACS, CHRM, alumni manager of Hillfield Strathallan College.

Following the final round, Finlay commended all of the competitors for excellent presentations. “I wish I had taken the opportunity in high school to practise public speaking as you have. It takes great courage to stand up, especially when there’s a big prize at stake. Whether you win one of the prizes or not, you must believe me when I say that this experience alone will help you be winners throughout your lives.”

To learn more about the Take the Lead contest, visit


Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is affiliated with The University of Western Ontario. The 1,100 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity. For more information, please visit

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Colleen Aguilar

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