Patch Whiz Kid Of The Week: Jhovani Vonleh

Whiz Kids highlights the accomplishments of local kids. This week, we honor Catholic Memorial School junior Jhovani Vonleh.

Each week, Sharon Patch will seek suggestions from readers for individual kids, youth groups, teens, and even sports teams that wow us with their accomplishments. We want to hear about these amazing children and teens and select one each week as the Patch Whiz Kid.  Submit your nomination in our comment box below or e-mail the information to Michael.Gelbwasser@patch.com.

Here's our story on this week's Whiz Kid:

Catholic Memorial School junior Jhovani Vonleh

Whiz Kid's Accomplishment:

As a national oratory champion and the founder of a new nonprofit hosting a gala next month, Jhovani Vonleh sounds very determined.

The Catholic Memorial School junior even proposes an equation for "determination": "faith, drive and a little bit of luck."

"Luck is very interesting, because luck is where opportunity meets preparation,"  Vonleh says.

The Sharon resident will try to defend his national declamation title with an up to 10-minute memorized speech about determination.

The National Forensic League's national tourmanent is June 13 to 18 in Dallas, Texas.

One month earlier, on Sunday, May 15, the nonprofit International Youth Partnerships Inc. holds its first artist gala fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Newton.

Founded by Vonleh a few months ago, the group is a "local organization with a global perspective," volunteering throughout Greater Boston while helping foreign countries, he says.

The group now is supporting ex-child soldiers in Liberia, "because they experienced a lot of civil war for about 14 years, from 1989 to 2003," Vonleh says.

Vonleh says he was inspired by his father, a native of Liberia.

"He always told me about what was going on. He's been supporting them now for really two years now," Vonleh says.

"As a son, I saw the passion that he had. And that really made me want to step in. I was like, 'Let's really get organized and do something.'"

In Dallas, Vonleh, who turns 17 this Friday, will compete in the original oratory category. About 100 students will compete, he says. About 10,000 students competed in state segment tournaments to reach this level, he says.

"I've always been one of those childen that really liked to express themselves. I always talked to other kids in my class," Vonleh says.

Joining Catholic Memorial's speech and debate team "really gave me an outlet where I could express myself, and I had that audience that I could speak to. And I got to express the way I thought to everybody else," Vonleh says.

"As soon as I entered, I just blossomed," he says.

"At first, when I began as a freshman, I was a little timid. But, over time, that quickly went away. Now I feel as though I thrive on that. The bigger the audience, the better I do."

Last year, Vonleh won a national title in Omaha, Neb.

From that, "I'm not really scared," he says.

"I used to be really nervous, like, 'Wow! I'm going to have to go and face a large amount of kids who are probably just as good as me,'" he says.

"But if I practice, it doesn't matter what the odds are. If I work hard and I do what I need to do, I can always come out on top."


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