Public speaking contest sees passionate student participation

The Chaplain’s Office and the local First Congregational Church hosted the final round of  the William Sloane Coffin Prize for Passionate Public Speaking on Sunday at the church.
Coffin, a pastor for the United Church of Christ who began his career as a minister here at the College, was a man who, even in the most daunting of situations, “wished [he] was in the pulpit” so that he could share the incredible passion that he felt, speak his mind and face the challenge of finding the right words to say. The College organized the speaking contest this year as a tribute to his courage and spirit and as a celebration of those very qualities in students at the College.
The competition was divided into two rounds, the first of which – activism and social justice – began with a speech by Andrea Lindsay ’13 about the struggle of finding one’s place in the world of activism, where  the right choice is not always clear. In making personal choices related to this struggle of creating “an equitable and sustainable society,” she has faced another struggle with her faith, which is strengthened with every instance of action rather than inaction.
Emily Hertz ’14 followed this with an eye-opening talk regarding the inequality of education not only in America but in the College community. Her main topic involved our school’s efforts to assist local elementary and high schools. Overwhelmingly, it is seen that “Williams students work in Williamstown schools,” Hertz said, where kids are already eager and motivated to learn, requiring little help. In North Adams and Adams schools, however, uninterested and difficult-to-reach students are not getting the attention that they need, according to Hertz.
Finishing the category was Emanuel Yekutiel ’11, who provided a very personal speech about his time at the College and how it has affected his perceptions. Initially seeing the College as a community in which diverse groups are collected yet alienated, he eventually encountered a number of individuals who surprised him and re-shaped his view. From athletes interested in poetry to well-off dancers with the true spirit for hip-hop, students such as these have helped Yekutiel become less judgmental and more open to the idea of being “impressed by a person rather than a stereotype.”
After a short deliberation, Andy Morgosh ’12 started off the spirituality and faith round with an account of his relationship with God and Jesus. Having originally had trouble trying to please a God that seemed impossible to please, he came to realize, through an exploration of his faith, that God and Jesus “bring to life what everything in our daily lives have made dead,” and that we are capable of experience only because God brought those experiences to creation, he said.
Next, Christopher Holland ’11 discussed the way in which faith is kept silent. In his personal life, he has felt the need to hide certain aspects of himself from the ones he loves so that a sudden painful transition would not occur. Yet, he said that he sees now that he can trust in God, who reminds him that things change and that we can survive that change if we live faithfully, seeing faith not as an achievement but as a state of being that “needs poetry, courage, music and love” to exist openly and actively.
Chandler Sherman ’11  was the last to speak her mind, relating the way in which, after dealing with a duality of Hindu and Christian faiths, she came to realize the presence of a God. Having had her perception of a Hindu leader shattered and her faith in Christianity weakened, she was not sure whether she even believed in a divine being. After a hiking trip with a friend went wrong, however, and her life was literally saved by two passers-by, her eyes were truly opened to the knowledge that “someone is looking out” for her in the universe even if she doesn’t know who that someone is, Sherman said.
At the end of the night, Yekutiel and Holland were awarded top honors in their respective categories, each winning a $400 prize, while the other contestants were awarded $100 each for the incredible feat of making it to the final round.