Eight Murray State University students participated in the seventh annual Bluegrass Japanese Speech Contest, held in late March. Following social distancing guidelines in line with the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the contest was shifted from its physical presence in Lexington, Kentucky, into an online format.
Racers competed against nearly 30 students from three area high schools and four universities. Students were judged by representatives from the Consulate-General of Japan in Nashville and peer Japanese professors from two universities. The Japan America Society of Kentucky, the Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, Walnut Hill Church and the University of Kentucky sponsored the contest.
David Wallace, a senior with a double major in history and Japanese from Hanson, Kentucky, won first place in the level five competition — the contest’s highest level. Lilli Hanik, a senior with a double major in Japanese and international studies from Fisherville, Kentucky, also participated in level five and won second place. Sophomore Jackson Hiter, a double major in Japanese and telecommunications systems management from Cadiz, Kentucky, participated in level four and won the Judges’ Award.
The students competed under the direction of Murray State’s Yoko Hatakeyama, senior instructor of Japanese. Hatakeyama guided the manuscript writing process and coached the students individually in preparation for their speeches.
“The eight students worked hard and invested many hours with me to attain the competition’s challenging expected level of performance,” Hatakeyama said. “Even though the original contest was cancelled, they delivered their best performances in front of a camera and the fellow students, which must have given them a sense of achievement and self-confidence.”
Additionally, a pair of University Japanese majors, Jasmine Martin and Lara Justice, have been accepted to the prestigious Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. Martin will work as an assistant language teacher in Japanese K-12 schools. Justice has earned a coordinator for international relations position, and will work as a translator and interpreter for a local government in Japan.
The JET Program is a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in
cities, towns and villages throughout Japan. Serving as a JET provides an opportunity to work and to represent the United States as a cultural ambassador to Japan. Most participants serve as assistant language teachers and work in public and private schools throughout Japan; some work as coordinators for international relations as interpreters and translators.