Six students awarded public speaking prizes

By Shannon O’Brien ’15

“When I speak about anything, I try to make it something I am passionate about,” Catie Cooper ’15 said of her award-winning speech given at this year’s Public Speaking Competition. After a preliminary round, the final round of the Public Speaking Competition took place on March 8 in the Chapel. Seventeen students advanced to the final round during which a compilation of faculty, staff and alumni judges awarded six prizes to students with the most persuasive, articulate and compelling speeches.

Prizes were awarded in three categories. Madison Kircher ’14 won the Clark Prize, which assigns a specific speech topic for students to address, this year’s being about water. Entitled “Not a Drop to Drink: Coca-Cola and the Fight for Water in India,” Kircher’s speech discussed Coca-Cola bottling plants in conjunction with water rights violations in India.

Kircher also won the McKinney Prize for the Class of 2014. Awarded to one student from each class year, the McKinney Prize recognizes the best 5-8 minute persuasive speech. Kircher’s McKinney speech,  “A Novel Idea: Literary Fiction and Social Perceptiveness” argued that reading fiction improves one’s ability to understand another’s emotions. A New York Times article from last fall inspired her speech.

Catie Cooper won the McKinney Prize for the Class of 2015 with her speech, “A Battle of the Best” regarding the transformative effect that sports have on players as well as viewers. Cooper has participated in the Public Speaking Competition in the past, but she “made a point to prepare and work especially hard for this year’s competition,” explaining that preparation is truly the key to speaking clearly and effectively in the competition, especially when nervousness takes control. “No matter how many times you speak in front of an audience, the nerves never go away,” said Cooper. “That’s always the hardest part for me, because not only are you working to present a clear and concise speech, but you are also battling all the symptoms of nerves.”

The McKinney Prize for the Class of 2016 went to Porshai Rivera for her speech, “Take a Chance on Thug,” which called for the audience to consider the position of “at-risk” youth with empathy rather than criticism. Rivera decided to participate in this year’s Public Speaking Competition after taking a public speaking class with Professor Helmer of the oral communications department.

Rivera’s in-class skills certainly translated successfully in the competition, especially through the passion with which she delivered her speech. “My speech is my life,” explained Rivera. “I grew up in Boston and have seen the negative effects of poverty, drugs and violence on youth.” Rivera aimed to humanize “thugs,” explaining that the “thug” environment is oftentimes the greatest barrier to breaking cycles of poverty and violence. Rivera argued that for youth to be successful in America, opportunities need to be provided for everyone, “especially the youth who typically do not get opportunities, like Blacks and Latinos. Youth like me.”

Hady Hewidy, recipient of the McKinney Prize for the Class of 2017, also delivered a passionate speech for the competition. “I had a message that I thought was worth delivering,” said Hewidy of his speech, “All Are Terrorized.” His speech examined the “excessive use of force and indiscriminate killing” in the war on terrorism. Arguing that governments involved in the so-called war on terrorism have only spread more fear and violence, Hewidy aimed to discount the concept that “the end justifies the means.”

The Warren Wright Prize in informative speaking was awarded to Will Schoder ’14 for his speech, “Lasting Debates about Youth in  American Gay Rights,” which analyzed perceptions of and historical myths surrounding the gay community in relation to youth. Schoder has never participated in the Public Speaking Competition before this year but has been involved in stand-up comedy and theatre, making him comfortable in front of an audience. “I was looking to take part in something I haven’t done before I graduate,” explained Schoder.

Besides delivering articulate, convincing, and informative speeches, the award recipients certainly demonstrated their own bravery and passion as individuals. Rivera admitted that she wrote the word “passion” at the top of each sheet of her speech, asserting, “No matter how uncomfortable it could make my audience, I had to express myself.” Other competitors also mentioned the challenge of persuading the audience on stances concerning sensitive issues. However, as Kircher noted, “There is no wrong speech topic.” While many competitors look “for a topic that seems lofty or highly academic,” explained Kircher, “it’s more important to pick something that genuinely interests you, because if you’re interested, it’s more likely your audience will be, too.”


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