Excelling through speaking

Senior Dawt Sung overcomes language barrier, now acts as role model to English learners


Maritza Quintero

Senior Dawt Sung speaks about her passions on Wednesday, May 10.

Piercing yellow lights illuminate the stage pointing to a single microphone in the center. A small girl stands backstage, her breathing shallow as she mentally prepares herself to deliver the speech she’s worked on for the past two months. Her hand reaches down to smooth her blouse as the director taps her shoulder.

“It’s your turn.”

One more shaky inhale and she wills her feet to move forward. Her shoulders back, mind racing with the words she’s rehearsed countless times. She positions herself in front of the stand, tilting the microphone down to reach her. A beat passes and her voice comes out, strong and clear.

“My first speaking competition was the international oratorical competition,” senior Dawt Sung said. “I actually didn’t expect to go as far as I did; I went to the finals.”

Her success was no surprise to speech and debate teacher Sally Squibb. Squibb chose Sung out of a group of students to participate in the competition after hearing her perform during class in debate one during her freshman year.

“She was the hardest working,” Squibb said. “She came to every practice, had the best ideas and never gave up.”

Despite her lack of experience with speech competitions, Sung excelled going all the way to the international level of the competition in St. Louis, MO. As the competition progressed, she began to understand the size of the event.

“At first I didn’t realize it was a huge competition until after the first round and the school posted the news on Facebook,” Sung said. “When I got to the final round it accumulated to the point where my whole church was supporting me. I never realized it would even get that big.”

She’s really out there. If she wants something then she’ll try and get it.”

— Areej Ahmad

After the competition, former Harmon principal and current LISD central zone leader Andy Plunkett brought her around to various middle schools to deliver her speech as inspiration to other students.

“He pointed out that it was funny how someone like me is able to come here to America without knowing any English,” Sung said. “But now I’ve perfected my grammar and have spoken better than most of the people he has seen here.”

Sung is originally from the Southeast Asian country Myanmar, commonly known as Burma. When Sung, her mother and brother joined her dad in the United States in 2004, she didn’t know any English.

“When I first moved here I was so stressed out about whether I would be able to properly communicate with my other teachers or with my other friends,” Sung said. “I remember the first day in school, it was already so stressful and I started crying when my mom was leaving.”

The language barrier was difficult and frustrating, especially considering she was only 5 years old. Despite the challenge, her determination led her to seek out an unlikely source to teach her English.

“I have to give all of the credit to television,” Sung said. “Every single minute I was watching TV and I took hint of what they commonly used. I would watch cartoons which get repetitive and always have a message behind them so I could perfect my English pretty quickly.”

Since overcoming the language barrier, she has improved her vocabulary and grammar through constant practice. This persistence has been shown time and time again, gaining attention from her teachers.

“When Dawt is determined to do something she stays fiercely focused until she accomplishes her goal,” AP English and academic decathalon teacher Amber Counts said. “Along the way, she encourages others to do the same.”

As she has come out of her shell throughout the past few years, she has constantly worked to help others around her who struggle with similar issues.

“She was always silent,” Squibb said. “Except she helped all the other Chin kids in here and they all looked up to her.”

Her strong personality and drive extend far beyond her speech classes and into the lives of her friends.

“She has a loud voice for such a small person,” senior Areej Ahmad said. “She’s really out there. If she wants something then she’ll try and get it.”