Dozens of eighth-graders in the William S. Hart Union High School District competed in the Santa Clarita Valley Business Group’s 5th annual speech competition for the opportunity to take home one of three cash scholarship prizes worth $300, $200 and $100. The twelve students who made it to the final round of the contest gathered at Rio Norte Junior High School Tuesday along with their families, school administrators and members of the local business group. As a professional networking group who recognizes the importance of being a good neighbor in the community, the Santa Clarita Valley Business Group hosts the “Speech Week” event to help foster student achievement and academic opportunities for all of the Hart District’s students, said Jeffrey Armendariz, the group’s community outreach chair. During the competition’s three preliminary rounds that occurred earlier in November, each of the participants thoughtfully addressed the question, “How do I protect my reputation and character when using social media?” On Tuesday, the finalists had another three minutes to present their speeches, which outlined the benefits and drawbacks of social media platforms, to a judging panel comprised of the Santa Clarita Valley Business Group’s executive board, Armendariz said. Dressed in their business attire and armed with commanding voices, each of the 12 finalists took to the stage to share the opinions and research they had accumulated when preparing for the competition. During the speeches, students shared stories of prospective applicants missing out on jobs, internships and college opportunities simply because of the words or images that they’d posted in the past. Think twice about everything you post on the internet because every sentence, caption and photo is a reflection of you and your character, participants said, adding users should learn to self sensor. Parents also have a responsibility to do their part and protect kids on social media, as well, said Emily Alvarado, a student from La Mesa Junior High School. “Imagine how much better the world would be if we spread positive messages that uplifted and inspired others,” said Joan Go, a student from Rancho Pico Junior High School. “I’m happy I’m not one of the (judges) here,” Armendariz said at the conclusion of the speeches, adding that this the finest group of finalists in the history of the event. After awarding all of the participants with a certificate of achievement, the top three presenters were awarded their checks and invited to present their speeches at a future meeting. Rancho Pico student Jo Jojo would join Natalie Krantz — a La Mesa student who said the best way to protect yourself on social media is to not have one — and Maddie Del Rio of Arroyo Seco Junior High School atop the stage where they secured the scholarship prizes for their respective third, second, and first place finishes. “You’ve inspired the adults to go back home and quickly start deleting the posts on their social media,” Armendariz said.