Students Discuss Conflict at Public Speaking Contest

Inspired by the single word “conflict,” this year’s Lewis Orator Public Speaking Contest participants each presented speeches pertaining to their personal lives and the culture at Colgate. They also debated political and societal topics. 

A long-standing tradition at Colgate, the Lewis Orator Prize was established by Professor John James Lewis in 1867, honoring his brother George W. M. Lewis with a gift of 1,000 dollars. Lewis taught many classes while at Colgate, including logic, English Literature, civil history and oratory classes.

The competition was held on Thursday, Feb. 13 in Lawrence Hall and was open to anyone who wanted to join or watch. The guidelines of the competition mandated that each student deliver their own original speech inspired by only one word made known to them before the competition. According to the official guidelines, this one word had to be creatively used in each speech to “elucidate some aspect of social reality in a new and memorable way.”

This year, the word “conflict” served as the basis for each of the twelve contestants’ speeches. Ranging from five to seven minutes, each speaker was allowed to bring up their notes and were warned with one clap at seven minutes.

Speeches varied greatly in terms of layout, subject and overall message. Some speeches discussed narratives of personal inner conflict such as internalized homophobia, recognizing the conflict between actions and goals and personal battles with inner conflicts. Others elaborated on conflict in society, bringing up issues such as the importance of discussing conflict on campus, international conflict with Muslim persecution and the conflict seen between different stratas of society. 

Sophomore Sahil Lalwani’s speech, “Privilege Versus Humanity,” discussed the need to improve the much-needed conversation surrounding racism at Colgate.

“Hope far defies the natures and bounds of conflict,” Lalwani said.

First-year Aziz Ur Rehman Zafar elaborated on the importance of discussing examples of conflict at Colgate in his speech. Zafar concluded by insisting each Colgate student take one class about international conflict zones before they graduate. 

Other speeches discussed Ophelia’s Girls, a volunteer group on campus, the portrayal of different conflicts in the media and the difficulty of being a Peace & Conflict Studies contestant in our current society. 

Sophomores Jan Marek, John Morgan and Michael McDowell won the competition. McDowell said this kind of contest was both personally and intellectually important to him. 

“As a student interested in politics, I see public speaking as a vital skill to master. I see it not only as a way to inform people, but also as a way to make people feel emotion,” McDowell said.