Five students shared stories and words of hope at the C. Henry Smith Oratorical contest on Tuesday night.
The students, seniors Achieng Agutu and Deeksha Pagar, juniors Sara Azzuni and Katie Yoder, and sophomore Mandira Panta, each presented an approximately 10-minute long speech about varying topics involving peace.
Agutu won the contest and a $500 cash prize for her speech titled, “The Introduction: A Story of Inner Peace.” Along with the first place prize comes the opportunity to represent Goshen College in the C. Henry Smith Oratorical contest this coming spring.
The speech focused on Agutu being introduced to herself at age 13. Agutu recalled her father sitting her in front of a mirror and asking her to say, “My name is Annie Achieng Agutu, but I go by Achieng Agutu. I was born on Nov. 13 in 1996 and today I turn 13.”
“On that day, my father introduced to me the things I need to know about myself: my name, my black body, and the things I should expect to happen to me,” Agutu said. “He told me the world isn’t made for girls with chocolate skin and cotton hair.”
She went on to explain the importance of her body, her name, her skin, and the harm stereotypes have caused her due to those things.
To conclude, Agutu said, “Living and breathing through someone else’s unique and human experience is the key… Hi, my name is Annie Achieng Agutu, but I go by Achieng Agutu. Yes, I am a stereotype, but so are you. But I am so much more and so are you.”
First to speak was Yoder, who presented, “How to Love Your Redneck Neighbor.” Yoder told a story about how her house was egged this summer because of a sign that sits out on her front lawn that states “No matter where you are from, you are welcome here,” in English, Spanish and Arabic. Yoder’s family presumed that those who egged her house were rednecks.
Yoder went on to encourage the white members in the audience to reevaluate their perception of bigots, stating that most times “rednecks” or “white trash” are envisioned.
“Other white people get to escape the harshness of whiteness by pinning it on those who are classified as others, those below them,” Yoder said. “…Bigotry isn’t limited by class distinctions, it’s just a little more uncomfortable though when that hatred comes from people that look like us.”
Next to speak was Sara Azzuni who presented “Mother, What Was War?” Azzuni, originally from Palestine, emphasized the harmful effects of war on children.
“These children,” Azzuni said referring to children in the Middle East, “are not collateral damage.”
Azzuni pointed out that on 9/11, approximately 3,000 people died. But due to the United States’ involvement in the Middle East, over 500,000 people died and it was chalked up as, yet again, “collateral damage.”
Azzuni concluded her speech by asking the audience to use their hands to volunteer, their words to advocate, their hearts to love.
After Azzuni came Pagar who discussed the importance of meditation in her life.
“Through meditation, I’ve come to the realization that we need to work on ourselves,” Pagar said. “Before you arm yourself with the diction and jargon of justice and throw them at people who have little understanding of what you speak, I urge you to look within yourself.”
Pagar led the audience in 30 seconds of silence and urged them to continue to do so.
“We cannot be peacemakers if we are not at peace,” she said.
Following Pagar was Panta, who won second place and a cash prize of $250.
Panta presented on the topic of colorism — the idea those with darker skin face more discrimination than those with lighter skin. Panta, originally from Nepal, used examples from her life to show the negative impacts of colorism.
“It’s a cultural obsession that is becoming dangerous,” she said.
Panta challenged the audience to love their skin — no matter how light or dark they may be.
“Let’s recreate that image of beauty so that no one will ever have the need to hide… Nobody deserves to be a foreigner in their own culture due to their skin…. Maybe it’s time for society to understand that it’s OK to be dark and lovely!”
This year’s contest was the first to be live-streamed, which was exciting for many as four of the five contestants are international students.
The contestants were judged by Adrienne Nesbitt, a 2008 Goshen College graduate with degrees in music and theater, and event coordinator of Eyedart Creative Studio in downtown Goshen, Allan Rudy-Froese, associate professor of Christian proclamation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and Regina Shands Stoltzfus, associate professor of the peace, justice and conflict studies, Bible, religion and philosophy department.