Nina Gelashvili, delivering her speech at the 2019 Race Unity Speech Awards. PHOTO/BEN PARKINSON

ELI HILL
eli.hill@age.co.nz

A Wairarapa pupil with the gift of the gab has been named runner-up at the 2019 Race Unity Speech Awards – with a speech she left to the last minute.

Kuranui College Year 12 pupil Nina Gelashvili spoke in front of a crowd of around 150 people in Te Manuherehere Marae in Auckland on Saturday.

The 16-year-old has been public speaking for the past five years and said she was “shocked” to find out she’d been awarded runner-up.

“There were so many amazing people there. Full of creativity.”

Gelashvili spoke of using four principles to guide New Zealand towards race unity – inclusion, acceptance, love and education.

“We poured our hearts out to our Muslim community in Christchurch which is all great and good but why is it that people have to die in order for that to happen and why can’t we do it every day? Why can’t we?”

While Gelashvili’s passion for equality made the speech easy to write she didn’t give herself much time to prepare.

“My English teacher came up to me and said, ‘Are you keen to do this speech contest’ – and she’d already put my name down …” she said.

“I had three months to write it but I totally forgot about it because I was really busy with other school stuff.

“Two weeks before the heats, my teacher came up and reminded me and I was like, ‘Oh no’.”

In order to qualify for the national finals Gelashvili had to get through the Wellington regional competition and the national semi-finals.

As part of Gelashvili’s preparation, she delivered her speech in front of Simon Bridges and Alistair Scott during Bridges’ visit to Wairarapa.

Despite the practice, she said she was “freaking out” in the lead-up to her final speech.

“I was really nervous but once I got up there and knew we were all there for the same reason, it made it a lot better.

“I was just sharing my thoughts on racism in New Zealand and working for unity and justice.”

New Zealand Police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha said this year’s speeches were a higher level than previous years.

“I was incredibly impressed by all of the competitors; their place in the national finals was well deserved. They articulated their individual experiences and observations extremely well, with a powerful honesty.

“I also congratulate all 130 regional speech competitors and thank their families for supporting them on their journey.

“Their dedication and commitment to sharing in this important dialogue is key.”