Emily Stoltzfus, a senior social work major from Goshen, Indiana, won the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical contest on Tuesday night with her speech, “Getting the Words Right: Rethinking our Measures of Education.”
Junior Mandira Panta, a sustainability major from Bhaktapur, Nepal, won second place with her speech, “Why Climate Change?” Last year, Panta won second place in the 2018 oratorical contest for her speech titled, “Shades of Injustice.”
Students Ronit Goswami and Deborah Kankolongo Tshidimu also presented with their speeches, “Interfaith Exploration and Learning” and “The Human in Me: Remembering How MJ Shaped the Heart of a Congolese Girl,” respectively.
Stoltzfus’ speech focused on what schools in the United States consider educational success to be and the sometimes unfair standards that students are held up to.
“In school settings, from elementary all the way up to college and beyond, we elevate a few and marginalize the rest,” Stoltzfus said.
She went on to question the validity of achievements such as the honor roll or dean’s list.
“Are they supposed to be rewards?” Stoltzfus said. “Motivators to excel? Perhaps. But from my perspective, they end up serving as another reminder to many of us that we’re not quite there, not quite making the grade.”
Stoltzfus shared her own experience as well. For most of her life, Stoltzfus said, she struggled with reading. It wasn’t until her sophomore year of college when she was diagnosed with a reading impairment and told she needed over a year’s worth of vision therapy.
“Vision therapy… gave me an increased understanding and empathy for those who share similar struggles,” she said.
Along with receiving the opportunity to represent Goshen College at Mennonite Central Committee’s bi-national intercollegiate oratorical contest later this year, Stoltzfus won a cash prize of $500.
Panta’s speech centered on the topic of climate change and how Goshen College students and community members could make changes in their lives to further prevent environmental damage despite the fact that many are what Panta called “environmentally privileged.”
Among other things, Panta encouraged the audience to ride their bikes, decrease their energy consumption, recycle more, eat less meat and shop less.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Panta said. “Nothing ever really is. But we would be foolish to do nothing about [climate change.]”
“Saving the planet is not a political issue,” Panta concluded. “It’s about families, communities, ecosystems, biodiversity and humanity. This, right here, right now, is the very beginning.”
Panta received a cash prize of $250 for winning second place.
Goswami’s speech focused on his experience with “interfaith learning and experience.”
As a Bangladesh immigrant, Goswami was raised Hindu, but as he grew up in Northern Indiana, he found an interest in Christianity.
Through his speech, Goswami challenged the audience to engage with others of differing faiths with the intention of truly connecting with one another.
“It should be a necessity to understand that our views of faith are bound to be different,” Goswami said. “But we should strive to be as open-minded as possible in order to make peace in our world.”
Tshidimu spoke about her late friend, MJ Sharp, who was killed in her home country of Democratic Republic of Congo while investigating the activities of rebels on behalf of the United Nations. She used Sharp as an example of what a true peacemaker is and encouraged the audience to push themselves towards peace.
“Peace is about not staying silent, but raising your voice when something is not right,” Tshidimu said. “Peace is about thinking about those who have lost their lives and salute (sic) them.”
The student speakers were evaluated by four judges: Richard Aguirre, community impact coordinator at Goshen College; Malinda Berry, assistant professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS); Allan Rudy-Frose, associate professor of Christian proclamation at AMBS; and Adrienne Nesbitt, a 2008 GC graduate, with degrees in music and theater, and event coordinator for Eyedart Creative Studio.
This year’s contest was dedicated to was Carolyn Shrock-Shenk, former Goshen College associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, who passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
“Tonight’s competition personifies the character of Carolyn’s life and will serve as a annual reminder of her legacy as a peace advocate, teacher and practitioner,” said Jason Samuel, assistant professor of communication and contest director.
The oratorical contest is funded through the C. Henry Smith trust. C. Henry Smith worked as a librarian at Goshen College and from 1908-1913 served as the dean of the college. Speech contests have been a large part of Goshen College’s history since 1907.
As Samuel said, “Goshen College students have been speaking their minds about peace and justice issues ever since.”