The 2012 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratory contest featured eight EMU students who applied the Christian peace position to a contemporary concern in an 8-10 minute address. From left to right: Sarah Schoenhals, Taylor Weidman, Jamila Witmer, Joel Nofziger, Thomas Millary, Rose Byler and Julia Schmidt. Photo by Jon Styer.

Speech-Winner Ties Conflict to Systemic Injustice

A call for peace echoed throughout the University Commons as eight Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) students raised their voices for peacemaking in the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratory contest.

Rose Byler, a senior social work major from Goshen, Ind., won first place with her speech, “Living into the Tension: Social Services and Systemic Change.” Byler discussed how her profession can both empower individuals and tackle systemic issues.

“I challenge us to use our gifts to empower individuals, communities and policy making bodies in ways that confront systemic injustice and shift toward sustainable change. We must not forget the end goal,” Byler said.

As first-place winner, Byler receives a cash prize and entry in the bi-national competition with winners from other Mennonite-rooted colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. The bi-national winner will be announced in the fall.

Julia Schmidt, a junior from Pandora, Ohio, who is majoring in history in addition to philosophy and theology, was first runner-up with her speech, “Holding Dignity in the Community of Faith.” Her speech focused on responses to difference and conflict in the church, articulating “how the concept of dignity can transform the way we live in relationship as a community of faith.”

“Looking back on my two experiences [in Ohio and Texas], I believe that dignity was the difference,” said Schmidt. “Now, I don’t think people in (my first church example) were bad people, or they meant to harm each other in the way they did. However, the church did not understand dignity, and how dignity is essential to all humans, and especially when attempting to be a community of Christ.”

Taylor Weidman, a junior from Chambersburg, Pa., who is triple-majoring in peacebuilding and development, environmental sustainability and economics, was second runner-up with his speech, “Dissimilarity is Hope.” Weidman spoke about his story of dyslexia and the recognition of dissimilarities in the world.

“As a community dedicated to peace, we must not use or internalize the methods of measurement or conformity,” Weidman said. “As a community of learners and teachers, we cannot let ourselves become reduced to merely cogs in a system of compulsion…”

The annual oratorical event, open to students in Mennonite and Brethren in Christ universities and colleges in Canada and the United States, is administered by Peace and Justice Ministries of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.

Each speaker applied the Christian peace position to a contemporary concern in an 8-10 minute address.

The contest was established in 1974 in honor of the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen College and Bluffton University.

Other 2012 contestants

  • Thomas Millary, “A Pluralistic Realm: Towards a Theology of Peace”
  • Joel Nofziger, “Confession as a Restorative Practice in the Church”
  • Sarah Schoenhals, “Justice from Generation to Generation”
  • Jamila Witmer, “His Dream is our Command: Breaking Stereotypes through Integration”