Ronit Goswami, a sophomore exercise science major from Goshen, won the 2020 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest and $300 in prize money on Tuesday Feb. 18.
The transcript of his speech, “Finding Peace in the Trenches: The War on Homlessness,” and a video of his performance will now be submitted to the bi-national C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest hosted by Mennonite Central Committee.
Nasim Rasoulipour, a senior interdisciplinary major, received second place and a cash prize of $150 for her speech titled, “Two Paths Converged in 2016: My Life with Donald Trump.”
Three other Goshen College students shared speeches on the theme of peace and justice. Jace Longenecker, a senior history major from South Bend; Jazmine Macias, a junior biology major from West Covina, California; and Mandira Panta, a senior sustainability major from Bhaktapur, Nepal, covered the topics of climate change and alcoholism.
Macias was the first to take the stage, sharing a powerful, emotion-filled story of her upbringing in a household with an alcoholic step-father. The audience listened intently as Macias shared her experiences.
“It’s the emotional pain of physical attack, just without the bruise,” Macias said. Despite the pain, Macias stated that her experiences have given her a “sense of understanding for the world and others,” and that she has forgiven her step-father.
“I’m not against him, and I do not hate him,” she said. “His alcoholism isn’t all who he is.”
Longenecker was next to take the stage. His speech argued that Mennonites today can draw on the radical, non-conformist nature of historical Anabaptism to inform our present fight against climate change. He proposed a voluntary tax on the carbon emissions generated by air and car travel that would raise money to support organizations working to fight climate change in Goshen and abroad.
Longnecker also pointed out the significant air travel emissions associated with Goshen College’s study service term and called on the college to take responsibility for the environmental cost of its international education. He proposed another self-tax of 10 cents per air mile, the equivalent of $120 for a flight from Chicago to Quito.
Goswami began his winning speech with a story of his experience being homeless during a controlled three-day experiment organized by his youth group in Denver, Colorado.
He then called out his community for not paying attention to the homelessness crisis. “Are we fighting a war on homelessness, or are we fighting a war against the homeless?” Goswami asked.
Goswami emphasized the fact that homelessness exists in Goshen, mentioning that in 2019, Goshen city officials started evicting homeless individuals staying near the millrace canal. Goswami made it abundantly clear to the audience what his message was: the homeless are people too, and we should advocate for them just as we would anyone else.
Panta followed Goswami by purposefully misquoting Billy Joel, “We did start the fire,” she said. With intensity in her voice, Panta argued that anger is a healthy and necessary reaction to the climate crisis.
“I feel hopelessly inadequate to solve the bigger problems concerning our humanity and the environment, but I also feel the urgency to do something,” Panta said. Her speech was a plea for action, and she ended by asking audience members to share with their neighbor one thing they are ready to commit to changing for the sake of our world.
Rasoulipour concluded the night’s speeches. As a citizen of Iran studying in the United States, Rsoulipour shared her frustration with the governments of both countries.
“Lives have gotten harder as our national currency, the rial, has become the most worthless currency in the world,” Rasoulipour said of the trade sanctions put on by the United States Government. “But nobody seems to care about Iranian people, not even my own oppressive government.”
She encouraged the audience to look for ways to combat the narrative we see in the media and work towards peace.
After the speeches concluded, the three judges, Allan Kauffman, Adrienne Nesbitt and Dr. Regina Shands Stoltzfus, decided on a winner while the audience enjoyed refreshments in the nearby Yost room. The winners of the binational MCC oratorical contest, to which Goswami’s speech was submitted, will be announced early next fall and receive a cash prize and scholarship.