By Matt Michaloski ‘14
Four Wabash men took the stage in Korb Classroom last Wednesday (April 10) to compete in the 139th annual Baldwin Oratorical Contest. The nature of the contest was to present a short oration on an issue in the local community and to advocate a solution; its prize was a cash reward, a copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare, and a spot on the Baldwin plaque that hangs in the Ball Theater Lobby. President Patrick White, Wabash First Lady Chris White, former Baldwin contest winner Donovan Bisbee ’12, and Marc Lotter, Communications Director for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, served as judges for the competition. A large number of students and faculty braved the poor weather to witness this exciting exercise in civic engagement, and I’m confident that they also learned some new information about the issues addressed by the speakers (The video for the contest is available here).
The contest began with Corey Hamilton’s speech (class of 2014), who chose to address the homeless in Montgomery County. He provided statistics to show that homelessness is a big issue in the area even if it is not visible. Most dislodged families, he said, tend to board with friends for short spans of time and move around from home to home. While there are not people living in the streets of Crawfordsville as in larger cities, there are still many families struggling to raise children without the benefit of a stable home.
He then emphasized the success that Habitat for Humanity has had in providing low-cost homes and turning bad situations around, work that they cannot do without massive volunteer effort. Fraternity freshmen tend to be drafted into Fall Semester work with Habitat, but the number of Wabash volunteers dwindles in the Spring. Hamilton appealed to Wabash’s commitment to “living humanely” and challenged members of the Wabash community to share their time and strength with this important organization throughout the year, reminding us that there are mothers, fathers, and children suffering without a home in our very own community. Notably, Hamilton announced his intention to volunteer with Habitat the Saturday following the competition and encouraged his audience to join him.
Scott Purucker ’16 was the second contestant and spoke about the benefits of transitioning Lacrosse from a club to a varsity sport at Wabash. He spoke about the rising popularity of Lacrosse nationally and the difficulties that the team currently faces with minimal financing from the Student Senate. He shared statistics and charts to illustrate the impressive growth of the sport and the funding deficit between the current funds and those that would be needed to fund a varsity team. These funds are needed to supply safety equipment, game day equipment, and travel costs. The most powerful argument he summoned was highlighting that Wabash is one of only two NCAC schools that still lacks varsity Lacrosse and is thus hurting itself in terms of prestige and admissions strategy by omitting a sport that will only continue to grow in popularity. It seemed to resonate with the audience quite strongly when he reminded us that DePauw University has already created a varsity team… ahead of Wabash.
The solution that Purucker offered is simple: we should demonstrate our interest in the sport to the college in two ways. First, we should raise attendance at games and show more support. Second, we should write to incoming president Dr. Hess to lobby for varsity status for the team.
The third contestant was Justin Taylor ’15, who delivered a passionate speech calling his Wabash brothers to practice greater love and acceptance. He began his speech by praising MLK Jr., whom he saw as a great hero in the timeless fight against discrimination in every form. Taylor argued that the new target of oppression is the homosexual community, and that the Wabash homosexual community is the frequent victim of careless comments and insensitivity. He first framed the practical reasons for fighting this type of discrimination: the rates of depression and suicide are higher in the gay community. The impacts of insensitivity and discrimination are felt at every level of society, including our children, who are becoming trained to perpetuate this discrimination. Our careless comments and meanness can have real consequences.
Taylor was not content only to explain by reason why discrimination is harmful. He reflected on his own experiences as a gay student at Wabash and the turmoil that plagued him as he recognized his own sexuality while hearing gay slurs and intolerance at Wabash. Taylor invoked the principles of our college and challenged his audience to eliminate the slurs that seem so harmless but cause real pain. In so doing, we can join the fight against discrimination and fulfill our duty to love one another. It only takes an awareness of the harm that jokes and slurs can cause and a willingness to eliminate them.
Zach Thompson ’13 delivered the final speech of the evening by outlining two easy improvements that would make our downtown area more “walkable.” Thompson, a Crawfordsville native, has learned through conversation about the idyllic past of downtown Crawfordsville which was once a hub for business and sociability among the community. This atmosphere was spoiled by the gradual increasing of traffic along Highway 231 and the dispersion of local business. The lost benefits of walkability are improved health, sociability, and the statistical evidence for higher civic engagement and lower crime in more face-to-face communities.
Thompson offered two simple solutions for improving the area and attracting walkers: we should petition the city council to adjust crosswalk lights to facilitate faster crossings for waiting pedestrians, and we should beautify our city with more trees and benches. Currently, it is quite tedious to cross 231 because of long wait times at the traffic lights even at times of day when traffic is relatively light. The opportunity to plant trees involves little cost and could involve volunteer work from Wabash, boosting the college-town relationship. The effects of the beautification process could improve this relationship also by attracting more students to the downtown area.
The judges selected Thompson’s speech for the evening’s top award due to the superior clarity and simplicity of the solutions offered. Every finalist received the complete works of William Shakespeare in keeping with the tradition of the contest, and the finalists earned cash prizes as well.