On Tuesday night, Denisse Aguilar, sophomore sociology and psychology major, was announced the winner of Goshen College’s annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest for her speech “Living the American Dream on Borrowed Time.”
Mackenzie Miller, senior journalism and English major, came in second place for her speech on “Making Peace with Death: Transforming a Language of Violence and Inequality in America.”
The judges for the competition were Robert Brenneman, professor of criminal and restorative justice; Melinda Berry, associate professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS); and Janna Hunter-Bowman, assistant professor of peace studies and Christian social ethics at AMBS.
The other contestants were Olivia Krall, sophomore history major, on “The Rope That Ties Peace and Pain Together;” Lisa Nalliah, sophomore environmental and marine science major, on “Change Is Purple;” and Gabriella Klopfenstein, junior public relations major, on “Share the Road: My Dad’s Story.”
The contestants were judged on a variety of criteria, including adherence to the theme of peace/justice, clarity, delivery and eye contact. Aguilar will receive a prize of $300, and a recording of her performance will be submitted to a binational contest, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee, in which winners from all Mennonite and Brethren colleges and universities in Canada and the United states are invited to compete.
Miller will receive a prize of $150 for her second place finish.
In her winning speech, Aguilar shared her own story as a student on DACA, and the lessons she has learned from activism and advocacy.
“My future had been built on a two year by two year basis,” she said, “and thinking further than that seemed like overreaching.”
Although her family came to the U.S. in search of the “American dream,” she said that achieving the “American dream” is not as simple as it seems.
“There is a misconception to the ‘American dream,’” she said. “Solely having a roof over your head and some money, does not signify a good life. A good life is having a safe, peaceful, and caring environment, something that the U.S. has been struggling with historically.”
Things began to progress for DACA in 2010, when activists began forming movements and calling attention to the issues thousands of immigrant children faced.
This led to the eventual passing of DACA in 2012, but only five years later its constitutionality was called into question by the Trump administration.
Aguilar shared how she was inspired by the peaceful protests she witnessed in the name of many issues, not just DACA.
“They were demonstrating peace through activism,” she said. “I saw people who were fighting for me, for themselves, and for others. Continuously watching their strength and passion enabled me to find courage to speak on this issue”
She argued that although the American dream glorifies the achievements of the individual, no change is possible without the support of many and a strong, dedicated community.
“If it were not for advocacy, 800,000 lives would have been different today. My life would have been different. Good advocacy makes a difference. We must work hard and together to create a peaceful, caring and safe environment.”
To conclude her speech, Aguilar invited listeners to listen to the stories of others and display compassion and empathy to all.
“And more importantly,” she said, “if you have found your voice, as I recently have, use it. Use your voice for those who have been silenced.”