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Students showcase rhetorical skills

By Jack Cartwright '15

March 7, 2013

Hamilton places a high premium on oral and written communication skills. On Saturday, March 2, students from all class years showcased both as they competed in the Annual Public Speaking Competition’s final round—presenting prepared speeches to an audience of students, staff, faculty and parents in the Chapel.

Beginning at 1 p.m. and running for several hours with a brief intermission, the competitors vied for three prizes: the McKinney Prize, the Clark Prize and the Warren E. Wright Prize.

The competition’s judges comprised Alumni Council Member J.K. Hage III ’72; Executive Director of the Family Advocacy Center Mary Clare Hatch-Pennello; ESL Coordinator Barbara Britt-Hysell; Executive Director for Annual Giving Jon A.L. Hysell ’72; Lecturer in and Director of the Program in Teacher Education and the Program in Oral Communication Susan Mason; Associate Professor of Biology Michael McCormick; Leadership Mohawk Valley and Dance Coordinator, Hamilton Center for the Arts Tan Kit Pang ’10; Director of Alumni Relations and Secretary to the Alumni Council Sharon Rippey P’12; and Associate Director of Annual Giving and Director of Reunion Giving J. Frederick Rogers.  The judges assigned scores to each of the speakers’ five- to eight-minute speeches, and the participants with the highest scores were awarded the prize.

Participants competing for the McKinney Prize—which is awarded to one student in each class—presented persuasive speeches topics that are “interesting and relevant to a Hamilton College audience,” according to the prize’s description.  The winners of the 2013 prize were Mia Falzarano ’13, Daniel Lichtenauer ’14, Jack Boyle ’15 and Hunter Green ’16.

Falzarano’s speech was titled, “Reevaluating Summer Opportunities.”  In it, she questioned the notion that students need to attain prestigious internships over other summer jobs—specifically, camp counselor positions.  Falzarano cited the value of the work experience she gained from being a camp counselor.  She said she gained leadership skills and was on the job 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  Unpaid interns, however, “don’t lead,” and 70 percent of their work time is “unaccounted for.”  Furthermore, she dispelled the “myth” that unpaid internships lead to full-time employment after graduation.  According to a study she cited, 37 percent of students with unpaid internships get job offers, whereas 36 percent of students without internship experience receive job offers.  Falzarano called the difference “almost non-existent.”

Lichtenauer argued for something many students might not even consider: dogs on campus.  Pointing to the “incredible amount of academic stress” Hamilton students are often under, dogs would help students relieve their stress.  According to Lichtenauer, “16% of college students go through depression at some point.”  Dogs, he said, are mediators of stress, and their presence on campus would “decrease [student] anxiety, depression and stress.”  While his proposal could sound radical to some, other universities are starting to implement Lichtenauer’s solution.  At Yale Law School, students can check out a library dog for half hour periods of time.  Finally, Lichtenauer conceded that while dogs on campus would “not [be] the be all end all, [they] would go a long way.”

Boyle’s speech, “Our Abysmal Attitude Toward American History and How We Can Change it,” spoke on the diminishing relevance of American History in American schools.  He cited a startling statistic, which stated that “just 12 percent of American seniors were proficient in American History,” in recent years.  While he underscored their importance, he still lamented the emphasis on math and science in schools today.  It has become so unimportant that the American history has actually been rewritten in certain cases.  Texas, he says, has eliminated all references to Thomas Jefferson due to his association with the idea of the separation of church and state. Boyle said we need to care about the issue because if only 12 percent of high school students are graduating with proficiency in American history it will lead to an “uninformed electorate.”  He concluded that President Obama could easily add history to his priorities of math and science.

Hunter Green’s topic was called “Solitary Confinement: An American Epidemic.”  In his speech he equated solitary confinement to torture.  He opened his speech with a quote from Senator John McCain on his experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam: “It’s an awful thing, solitary—it crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” Green made a case for increased humanity in the prison system, given the demonstrated physical, emotional and psychological effects of solitary confinement on incarcerated individuals.  Finally, he claimed that the “government fixedness and popularity” of solitary confinement remain obstacles in the way of eliminating this “misunderstood use of torture.”

Other contestants for the McKinney Prize included: Kip Langat ’13, Kayla Safran ’13, Theodore Clements ’14, Jason Ross ’14, Evan Warnock ’14, Catherine Cooper ’15, Sandhya Rao ’15, Donggi Lee ’16 and Gabriel Skoletsky ’16.

After a break, students competed for the Clark Prize, in which they had to address an assigned topic in an essay and then with a speech.  This year’s topic was called “Starship 2020” and asked the competitors to propose solutions to problems that might face a space mission traveling beyond our solar system. The winner of the 2013 Clark Prize was Evan Van Tassell ’13, whose speech was titled “The Problem of Science in the Interstellar Age.” Falzarano and Christopher Delacruz ’13 also competed for the Clark.

The Warren E. Wright Prize, which was open to all students who have taken or are currently enrolled in the College’s public speaking course, asked students to deliver “an informative speech that thoughtfully addresses a current issue of social significance.”  The winner was Sandhya Rao ’15, whose speech was titled “Facebook: The New Big Brother.” Elin Lantz ’13 and Cecilie Pikus ’13 also presented speeches in the Wright competition.

Saturday’s speeches were proof that Hamilton’s emphasis on communication skills pays off.

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