OGDEN -- About 300 area students gathered at Weber State University on Friday to celebrate free speech and the English language, and to show off their mastery.
The event was English Quest, a language arts festival that drew students from a dozen Utah schools.
"Communication is so key," said Mat Wenzel, event chairman. "It can change the world. Part of what they are fighting for in Egypt is the ability to speak freely and to change their society."
Students arrived Syracuse High, as well as other high schools including Box Elder in Brigham City, Davis in Kaysville, Northridge in Layton and Weber in Pleasant View.
Layton's NUAMES brought students, as did Ogden's DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts, Riverdale's Christian Heritage School and Eden's Snowcrest Junior High.
Rounding out the competition were Judge Memorial High School, Rockwell Charter and Grantsville High.
Students spent the day showing off oral storytelling skills, demonstrating their persuasive speaking and impromptu writing abilities.
They took spelling tests, wrote poetry and recited poems in slam style. They edited, wrote character sketches and displayed book covers of their own design.
"We like to cross-infect students with all the different forms language can take," said Kim Irvine, event volunteer and Highland High teacher. "It's less about competition, more about showing how wonderful language is."
Box Elder High student Shane Donovan, 18, performed in a scene with other students.
"Shakespeare's language makes the characters so real," Donovan said. "Shakespeare never gets old."
Donovan likes the precision of Shakespeare's word choices.
"You might say you love your dog, and you love your mom, but they're different feelings. Shakespeare is better at differentiating."
Sharon Vasquez, 17, from NUAMES, gave a speech arguing that boys and girls learn differently and that formal classroom education favors girls. She plans to study political science in college.
"Language skills are very important in that field, and I believe they help you sound professional and legitimate in any profession," she said.
Austin Andrews, 15, of Northridge High, said English is not a favorite subject among most students.
"It has harder concepts to grasp than math or science. It calls for a bigger creative expansion of the mind."
Syracuse High student Saleen Lyons, 17, hopes to teach elementary school.
"When I write something and it all works out, it makes me proud I could do something like that. It helps me relate to other writers," she said.
"It's also a real confidence builder to be able to be comfortable around people or in front of a class."
Sierra Bruggink, 13, from Snowcrest Junior High, hopes to use storytelling skills in a college acting program.
"Reading makes you feel like you are transported. English can help you be creative and imagine what your life can be."
Sirpa Grierson, president of the Utah Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, said a third to a quarter of Americans are functionally illiterate, and that tests that measure critical thinking are showing a recent decline in American students.
"We try to teach students critical thinking so they can be informed citizens," she said.
"In order for society to function, we need informed citizens who vote, and we need a work force that functions. We live in a global era, and we need young people who are able to join in the global conversation.
"In the Middle East, literacy has been taken away, as has free speech. We want our young people to be open to ideas, able to create, to participate, to even enjoy a play," Grierson said.
"We want people who have everyday skills, like the ability to read directions and put together an IKEA bookcase, and can also share ideas and make the world a better place"
Wenzel said that English Quest supports students in their love of language.
"A major part of the event is seeing the energy and excitement people have for English. Students get to see they're not the only English nerds out there. It's also good to show on your college resume that you are well-rounded," he said.
"The poetry-slam winner for two years in a row is studying engineering now. I'm sure having poetry-slam wins on his resume helped him stand out.
"Poetry and engineering -- that's a brain I wish I had."