Woodrow Wilson Public Speaking Semifinals

News  /  by Avigna Ramachandran '21 and Eden Fesseha '19  /  February 09, 2018

Elyssa Chou ’20 practices her speech for the competition.

This past Wednesday from 6:30–8:00 PM, 16 Lawrentians competed in the semifinal round of the Woodrow Wilson Speaking Competition in the Ambrecht Room.

The students—Anika Bagaria ’20, Danica Bajaj ’21, Serena Chen ’19, Elyssa Chou ’20, Charlie Christoffersen ’18, Ashley Duraiswamy ’20, Robert Enck ’19, Kendall Onley ’19, Emilia Onuonga ’19, Fiona Pando ’21, Sara Ptaszynska ’20, Madeleine Reinhard ’19, Casey Rogerson ’20, Max Williams ’18, Alicia Yin ’19, and Ivy Zhang ’19—prepared speeches on the prompt, “What makes a small difference significant?”

Contestants presented their speeches before judges Latin Master Devondra McMillan and Art Master Brian Daniell Brian H ’06 ’89. The public speaking competition is organized by Chair of the English Department Miranda Christoffersen P’14 ’18.

The first round of the competition took place in students’ English classes. One student was chosen from each class to advance to the quarterfinals, which were judged by faculty members. The judges then selected 16 of the 80 students to advance to the semifinals. Whereas in the quarterfinals, students delivered speeches on a topic of their choice, in the semifinals all students answered to the same prompt.

“Because the students now have the same task, they’re all trying to explain the same thing. [...] You’re not comparing different fruits,” Miranda Christoffersen said on the value of giving students the same prompt.

Despite the difference in prompts for the quarterfinals and semifinals, judging for the two rounds was not much different.

“In the quarterfinals, the judges’ rubric had about four or five categories, including ‘main idea’ and ‘argument,’” Miranda Christoffersen explained. Similarly, the judges’ rubrics for the semifinals included these categories as well as others such as “organization” and “rhetoric.”

When assessing the speeches, McMillan said that she focuses primarily on “content and delivery” and students’ ability to “highlight and strengthen their argument.”

McMillan added that “having conviction is important and that the more compelling [speakers] clearly have an opinion about the topic.”

While preparing to give her speech, Bagaria said that she “really thought about what difference means to her in her life and just went from there.” Her speech was focused on the “importance of initiative” and how “even the smallest of differences can have a big impact on our community.”

Out of the semifinalists, five will be chosen to compete in the final round of the competition, which will take place during school meeting during the Spring Term.