New event honors the late Tom Baldini

Lillian Biolo Thompson, at left, a sophomore at Marquette Senior High School, is the winner of the inaugural Tom Baldini Soapbox Challenge. The purpose of the event was to allow students to talk about a topic of their choosing in front of an audience. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Speaking passionately about gun control, Marquette Senior High School student Lillian Biolo Thompson won the inaugural Tom Baldini Project Soapbox Challenge Friday at MSHS’s Shirley Smith Little Theater.

The youth-driven civic engagement event allowed students to speak on issues that affect them and their communities.

“Gun violence has really been a big part of my life because last year my sister did the March for Our Lives in Marquette, and since then it’s really been a big part of what I want to do, and I feel really strongly about it,” said Thompson, who also won the Student Choice Award.

The runner-up in the competition was Grace Newcomb, who spoke about lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender bullying.

To qualify for the Soapbox Challenge, 12 finalists were selected from close to 180 competitors who researched, composed and delivered original speeches in Blythe Raikko and Kris O’Connor’s U.S. history classes. There also was an at-large competition open to any MSHS student interested in participating.

In its first year, the Tom Baldini Project Soapbox Challenge honored the legacy of the late Baldini, a former educator at Marquette Area Public Schools and a longtime area politician and public servant.

“Tom Baldini was the definition of a civil servant,” Raikko said. “He was somebody that made an impact on the national, the state and the local level.”

O’Connor told audience members the speeches weren’t about whether they agreed with the messages.

“We want you to give them support,” said O’Connor, who urged the students to loudly applaud the participants — which they did.

For the soapbox challenge, students had the opportunity to take a stand as they addressed the question: “What is the most pressing issue facing young people today, why is it important and what should be done to address it?”

Another goal of the event was to engage and empower the next generation of community leaders.

“This is all our fault: the countless lives that have been lost due to the arrogance of our lawmakers,” Thompson said in her speech. “Their blood is on our hands because their guns were valued over their lives.”

She listed recent examples of mass shootings as examples.

“Their blood has stained our nation red but still has yet to reach the color-blind leaders of our government,” she said.

A panel of judges evaluated the content, delivery and style of the students’ original speeches that lasted between 2 and 3 minutes.

The event aimed to spotlight issues including mental health, environmental concerns and veteran care, as well as other societal ills. Performing in the Little Theater also gave the participants a chance to speak to a large audience and have their voices heard beyond their classrooms.

The other students who took part in the event and their topics were: Juliana Golisek, mental health and suicide; Mindy Shimon, violence in schools; Alicia Garwood, veterans’ mental health; Anna Wheeler, the MSHS mascot; Cali Cromell, eating disorders; Lauryn Martin, prescription drug addiction; Ainsley Kirk, sexual assault; Emma Harman, climate change; Grace Rogers, pollution; and Seth Compton, men’s mental health.

Thompson will advance to Washington, D.C., in June to give her speech to a national audience as part of Soapbox Nation, a partnership between Mikva Challenge and Facebook Education.

Mikva Challenge is a nonpartisan organization that develops youth to be empowered, informed and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society. This is accomplished by engaging youth in action civics, a learning process built on youth voice and youth expertise.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is