Last Week’s Cicero Speech Contest

by Jenny Singer, a Speaking Fellow, ’15

At 6:05pm on Thursday, November 13th, the James Room on the 4th floor of Barnard hall was filled with people milling around in search of unoccupied folding chairs, last-minute sparks of genius, and Insomnia cookies. Every person had arrived to watch Barnard students engage in a sport that requires little special equipment or physical strength: public speaking. Hosted by the Barnard Speaking Fellows, the Cicero Speaking Contest entered its second year with a successful evening of persuasive and impromptu speeches judged by Barnard professors, administrators, alumna, and trustees.

The festivities began with a welcome from the head of the Speaking Program, Professor Daniela Kempf, who challenged the Barnard community to more fully welcome the art of rhetoric into their daily and academic lives. Kempf was followed by Barnard Senior Claire Bouchard, who read remarks from President Spar and welcomed the judges for the persuasive category, including Professor and Vice Provost Patricia Denison, Dean Christina Kuantsu, and Barnard Trustee Jyoti Menon. The six Barnard students who followed these introductions were given the opportunity to speak persuasively for five minutes on topics of their choosing. Each speech was uniquely exceptional and reflective of immense preparation, passion, and eloquence. Nicole Javorsky’s pathos-filled speech drew from personal experience and hard statistics to describe the damage public school health programs inflict on students’ wellbeing. Gabriela Aroca gave a stirring call to action for the change of the Barnard policy on transgendered students. The winners, in first and second place respectively Paymaneh Parhami and Becky Santora spoke about men’s roles in the feminist movement and the human rights crisis in Tibet.

The short intermission that followed this gave participants in the impromptu category time to prepare remarks on the prompt, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” The break found participants and audience members alike posing in the photo booth holding signs finishing the sentence “I speak up for…”, debating Trans equality and Tibet, and of course, eating Insomnia cookies. The fast-paced impromptu competition, judged by Professor and chair of the Physics department Timothy Halpin-Healy, Professor Kristina Milnor, and alumna Zahava Moerdler, featured contestants refuting and challenging traditional standards of femininity. “I am not a lady,” declared Jacey Kinnaird. Rathna Ramanathan, who took first place, compared her subversion of social expectations to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, and second place winner Ade Ajanaku cited Rosa Parks as one woman whose refusal to behave struck a match in the civil rights movement that became a beacon for equality. The evening ended with a raffle drawing which included prizes like President Spar’s book Wonder Woman, signed by Wonder Woman herself. As the room cleared and the final cookies were consumed, a group of students stood in the photo booth holding a sign that said “I raise my voice for…the Speaking Fellows.”