The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School


The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School


The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School


Michelle Hernandez Brings Home First Place in Le Congrès Florida French Competition

Michelle Hernandez
Hernandez stands with Dr. Tara Ellsley, President of Le Congrès, in her handmade gown. She would go on to win a remarkable Supérieur award, taking home first place for her poetry recital.

It was with great excitement and nervousness that junior Michelle Hernandez found herself in Orlando. Beginning on Thursday, March 7, the annual French Competition of Florida, organized by Le Congrès de la Culture Française en Floride hosted ambitious and passionate competitors until Saturday, March 9. It was at this Double Tree by Hilton that middle schoolers and high schoolers, like Hernandez, met from across Florida to compete, all joining to foster literacy of the French language and culture.

Before officially entering in the competition, Hernandez had to register and pay a due to be able to participate in the March competition. Needing administrative guidance and French teachers for both approval and support, Hernandez found her way to room 9227, where she spoke to Ms. Suarez, who is the Activities Director at Coral Gables Senior High school. It was here Hernandez received her first official stamp of approval, with which she moved forward for the support of a French teacher.

Knocking on the door down the same hall, Hernandez was warmly embraced with Madam de Oca’s encouraging sustainment. Moving forward, she would assist Hernandez on her journey up to Orlando over the course of months leading up to the event. De Oca worked through a broken wrist to do paper work for Hernandez’s goal, and they worked together to perfect Hernandez’s performance. Right next door, another cavalier French teacher, Madam Rouit, additionally contributed to the project.

“Being able to show my gratitude and my appreciation through something was tangible was really important to me, because these teachers had believed in me when I was at the very bottom,” junior Hernandez said.

Arriving at the Double Tree with her mother and sister, two of her biggest supporters, Hernandez never ceased practicing for her competition. Participating in the Déclamation, Hernandez had to recite a French poem from a select list, on which she was judged by outlined criteria. Among these points were those for pronunciation, intonation, oral expression like, posture and eye contact, and memorization.

In the corridor of the Double Tree where Le Congrès was held, Hernandez poses with her mid-19th century, French inspired gown, made completely by her mother. (Michelle Hernandez)

“I feel a lot of times that I am a perfectionist, so I really wanted to get first place. But I think what also drove me was knowing that it would be fine if I did not get first, because I still had an opportunity to put effort, and all I had to do was do my best. I was having trouble memorizing, so Madam Montes de Oca and I had a Zoom the day of the competition, and I got it twice, so I was really glad,” junior Hernandez said.

During moments of freetime, Hernandez and her family members, explored parts of Orlando outside the hotel. The real intensity was felt by Hernandez during the three-day event, especially on the second day, which is when she recited her poem. Having settled on Alphonse de Lamartine’s L’occident, Hernandez stood before judges and audience members for two and a half minutes.

“My Déclamation was on the second day, and I was so nervous because when my family and I got back to the hotel after going out to eat, we had to get everything ready, like my hair and my outfit. So when I went downstairs, everyone was looking at me and my dress and it was all really cool,” junior Hernandez said.

What made Hernandez’s performance more magnetic was her outfit, which was a gown made by hand by her mother. The relevance of her costume laid directly in the poem she was reciting, which was written in 1846. This time period  is that upon which the dress was based on, which dramatized her performance by rendering it more raw and relevant.

“The dress was not required at all, but my grandmother, who used to go to fashion school in Cuba before she left,  had taught my mom how to sew and make clothes. It was natural that my mom took up that talent, so she really wanted to make me something for my performance, and she did an amazing job,” junior Hernandez said.

In her freshman year, Hernandez participated in Le Congrès through FLVS, competing with her teammates in the Saynète, a skit. This pigeon costume was made by hand by her mother, and the group’s performance earned them first place. (Michelle Hernandez)

The night of the second day, attendees congregated for a dinner, which was followed by a dance. Here, participants could ease off the stress they felt from the competition and meet new people.

Having already participated in Le Congrès Florida French Competition in 2022 during her freshman year, when she was part of a Florida Virtual School group, Hernandez already had a background in this competitive atmosphere. It was with this group Hernandez got first place for a saynète, a performance of an original skit. On these same grounds, Hernandez also participated in the Déclamation, where she also got first place.

New to Gables in her sophomore year, Hernandez took time to settle into the new school environment before reaching out to partake in Le Congrès Florida French Competition. She, instead, decided to wait until her junior year, where her results were prosperous, her efforts paying off.

On the third day of the event, Hernandez smiles brightly at her Supérieur, or first place, award in the Déclamation sector in which she competed. She wears her blue International Baccalaureate CGHS shirt, exuding her Cavalier pride. (Michelle Hernandez)

“I got my results on the third day, and I was stressing the entire night before. They go by each category, so sometimes you are just waiting. When they announced me as first place, I was really excited. Mrs. Montes de Oca, my mom and I were all putting so much work into it, starting months prior to this, so just seeing the fruit to our labor was really important to me,” junior Hernandez said.

Hernandez’s curiosity was quenched on the third, and final, day of the Le Congrès Florida French Competition. It was here, with great bliss, that Hernandez received her noteworthy recognition, and as a Cavalier, got Supérieur, which refers to first place in the Déclamation competition sector.

“They announced me specifically as ‘Michelle Hernandez from Coral Gables Senior High School’, and I was super glad to be able to finally represent Gables. I know the quality of education at Gables is amazing, and I really want to exemplify that. Being able to represent the French department in Orlando, at this really prestigious competition was very important to me,” junior Hernandez said.

Hernandez’s Results in the Déclamation Scoring
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About the Contributor
Beatrice Stampino-Strain
Beatrice Stampino-Strain, CavsConnect Staff Writer
Beatrice Stampino-Strain is a sophomore in the International Baccalaureate program at Coral Gables Senior High. Following an insightful year in CavsTV, she has now started as a Staff Writer for CavsConnect, looking forward to new writing experiences. Partaking in various clubs, she serves on the boards of the International Baccalaureate Honor Society and Key Club, while also being the Vice President of the Class of 2026. More often than not, she can be seen talking to her friends or reading a book, though not at the same time (she has tried). Always wanting to bond with people, Beatrice finds herself delving into music, literature and television shows as a form of discovery to fuel her expansive curiosity of understanding. She enjoys the unsteadiness of life despite its struggle, and is always anticipating what it will bring to her next.
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