By Matt Michaloski ‘14
Last Thursday, April 12, the Korb Classroom in the Fine Arts Center hosted the 138th Baldwin Oratorical Contest. For those not in the know, the contest was established in 1873 with an endowment from Wabash trustee Judge Daniel Pratt Baldwin and prides itself on being the oldest speaking competition west of the Alleghenies. The annual contest awards the Wabash students who “compose and pronounce the best orations” with the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a cash prize. The winner of the first competition was C. D. Whitehead, who was described as “a big man whose whiskers were the pride of the class of ‘73” (The Bachelor 1960). Such was the impressive tradition of time, rhetorical skill, and 19th century manliness that four Wabash students faced when they took the stage for the 2012 competition.
This year’s contest used the theme “Practicing Civic Engagement” and the four finalists, in order of presentation, were Trevon Stovall ’15, Michael Witczak ’14, Ryan Cloyd ’14, and Peter Gunderman ’12. The judges for the competition were our very own Dr. David Hadley; Peggy Lohorn, Montgomery County Superior Court Judge; and Carolene Mays, Member of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and Treasurer of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference. Master of Ceremonies Andrew Dettmer ’15 introduced the judges and contestants, and immediately afterwards the contest began with Trevon Stovall taking center stage to begin the night’s first oration.
Trevon’s speech was entitled “Eligibility for Financial Aid & Drug Use,” which focused on how a drug use conviction affects a student’s eligibility to receive financial aid for college. Trevon argued that the law has three problems that merit its repeal. In response he proposed that students establish a charter chapter of the group “Students for Sensible Drug Policy” in order to oppose this restriction.
The next contestant to speak was Michael Witczak ’14 with his speech about the recent friction on campus. In “Fixing Problems the Wabash Way,” Michael built on a humorous opening to focus on the importance of close student-faculty relationships to the Wabash experience. Fearing that these relationships are in jeopardy, Michael proposed that the administration, fraternity leaders, and campus leaders should communicate and rethink the structure of faculty dinners so as to preserve the tradition in a way that is acceptable to students and also acceptable to the standards of the administration.
Ryan Cloyd ’14 followed with his speech, “Wabash Always Tutors.” Ryan addressed the high economic costs of high school dropouts and argued that even a small improvement in graduation rates could have an enormous impact on productivity and employment. In order to assist with the issue, Ryan proposed that all Wabash students should consider getting involved with tutoring programs to combat this very dire problem. He talked about his own experience with tutoring and how he has seen real improvements in grades. Ryan gave several suggestions for how students can get involved and brought handouts with contact information for interested students.
The last to speak was Peter Gunderman ’12, with his speech, “The Missing Ingredient in Health Care Reform: Community.” Peter outlined three problems with health care in America: quality, coverage, and cost. These problems, Gunderman argued, cannot be fixed by national reforms, demonstrating why three attempts to fix health care at the national level have been insufficient. Instead, Gunderman advocated a local approach to reducing health care problems, one that depends on community action and personal responsibility. He presented four suggestions for improving the healthcare of our own, Montgomery County community: (1) avoiding unnecessary care, (2) engaging in personal preventative care (moderating obesity, smoking, drinking), (3) filling out the 2012 Community Health Assessment Survey to improve the information that the community officials have, and (4) supporting the Dr. Mary Ludwig Montgomery County Free Health Clinic which will soon open and will be staffed by volunteers. According to Gunderman, these measures could decrease the cost and improve the quality of care for the community.
The speeches were followed by a brief Q & A session while the judges deliberated. The contestants’ knowledge on their subjects was impressive and it reflected both a lot of research and a passion for their topics. The judges returned to announce the winner, Peter Gunderman. Then, in the true spirit of education, they proceeded to give constructive criticism to each of the contestants and presented them with their awards, following the tradition begun by Judge Baldwin. The evening was educational for everyone involved and reflected well on all the students that participated. I imagine that Judge Baldwin would be satisfied with the continuing quality of Wabash oratory.