What the John Nissel Cup Has Lead Me To

Written by Ken Yoneno 

On a flaming hot summer day in 2015, I came to visit Sophia University for the first time in my life. I was in my second year of high school; it was high time I decided on a university to pursue my higher education. Ever since I was thirteen, I have always wanted to study language. Needless to say, Sophia is renowned for its high-quality foreign language education and remarkable international diversity. With that being said, I was instantly determined that, one day, I will study at this cosmopolitan university. On my way home, as I was looking at the school brochure in great detail, one thing caught my eye. It was the All Japan High School English Speech Contest for the John Nissel Cup. Without a second thought, I decided to apply. That was the very beginning of my journey.

I began drafting my speech and went through countless of versions. As I  had roughly two weeks to prepare, it was not an easy process. Furthermore, the deadline for the submission of the manuscript and the recorded speech fell on the same day I was leaving for Vietnam for a school project. Nevertheless, I managed to finish a satisfactory manuscript on the day of my departure, and I started recording my speech. After about ten takes, I burned it to a CD in a rush and left for the airport. Fortunately, I did not miss my flight, and to my great surprise, I received a letter after a month saying that I was chosen as one of the twenty-one finalists. I could not believe I was just a step away from achieving my short-term goal.

The finals day came quickly and I was absolutely nervous making a speech in front of a crowd. The one thing I was confident about, however, was my message: Language diversity is essential for us to be able to “live together in a globalized society.” I was the fourth speaker, and as my name and the title of my speech were announced, I began speaking. Instead of being nervous, I felt comfortable standing on the podium despite the fixed eyes of the audience. Finishing my speech, relieved, I answered my question, smiled, and stepped down the stage. As I walked towards my seat, I saw Sara, my predecessor, giving me a thumbs-up with warm, comforting words of “good job!” She was indeed my inspiration and I was humbled receiving such a compliment from the champion herself. Towards the end of the contest when it was time to announce the winners, I could hear my heart beat fast. All the other twenty finalists were eloquent, confident, and poised. I truly felt first-hand how competitive and incomparable the contest was. Ultimately, my name was called as the first-place winner. Never did I imagine leaving the room as the fifth winner of the John Nissel Cup, with a one-year scholarship if I get accepted to study at Sophia.

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After the contest, I realized how much I loved the English language — its universality, diversity, and usefulness made me want to pursue studying it even deeper. English has been my favorite subject in high school, and I have always wanted to improve my knowledge of the language. Moreover, the classes offered at Sophia were captivating, the backgrounds of the professors are supreme, and the academic environment in which the students can learn was extraordinary. I then aspired to be a student of the Department of English Studies. When I learned that I passed the entrance examination, I was overwhelmed with joy and felt proud of myself — just like I did when I won the speech contest.

Being in the Department of English Studies has given me numerous opportunities to use English on a daily basis, learn in depth about the English-speaking world, and improve my writing abilities. It has also allowed me to explore a wide range of academic disciplines. I believe I would not have been able to have such opportunities if I were in a different department. It is as well worth mentioning that I am blessed with supportive peers and professors of diverse backgrounds. The fact that all of us embrace English both as a tool for communication and as a subject of academic query, in my opinion, is the ideal environment for me to grow as an individual. I will continue to learn, and I can hardly wait to see what the future holds.

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Photo: With students in Cambodia. I had the pleasure of teaching them English last summer as part of the STP  (Summer Teaching Program) activities.