On Monday night, seven students presented speeches to an audience and a panel of three judges for the annual C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest.
The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online says of C. Henry Smith: “His particular gift was that of synthesis of masses of material into well-written, interesting, integrated accounts.” Like the 19th century historian, each contestant managed to amalgamate information about a contemporary social justice issue into a concise ten-minute speech.
Social work major Rose Byler, Senior, won the competition with her speech “Living into the Tension: Social Services and Systemic Change.” Junior Julia Schmidt’s speech “Holding Dignity in the Community of Faith” took first runner-up, and second runner-up went to Taylor Weidman, Senior, for his speech “Dissimilarity is Hope.” First-Year Thomas Millary, Junior Joel Nofziger, Senior Sarah Schoenhals, and Senior Jamila Witmer also competed in the Oratorical Contest.
Themes of the speeches ran from justice in the care of the elderly to a call for a pluralistic outlook within the church.“I like the blend of the personal and the broader teachings,” said Seminary student Daniel Miller. “Some of the speeches were more personal than I expected. That was the surprising part.”
James Richardson, assistant professor in EMU’s music department, has been on the panel judging the speeches for two years. He commented on the value of the competition, “Feedback is given anonymously to students, so it is a learning process for everyone. They see what was done well and what could have been done better.”
Learning to speak well may be a peace practice in itself. “Rhetoric is very important for us to be able to articulate how we believe,” said Richardson, adding that articulating beliefs is “an aspect of how people may be able to make a difference.”
Junior Eva Stutzman expressed a hope that the light shed on the justice issues presented would continue beyond the speeches. “[The contestants] seem like passionate people. I hope they keep that… They can make a difference.”
If you missed the event, podcasts will be made available on the EMU webpage.