On Tuesday evening, Feb. 14, students, faculty and community members packed into Umble Center to hear five students address various issues related to peace and justice in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest. The contest is an annual event sponsored by the GC communication department. Funding comes from the trust of C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen and Bluffton colleges in the early 1900s.
Lauren Treiber, a sophomore peace, justice and conflict studies major from Grand Rapids, Mich., came away as the winner with her speech “The Real Occupy Movement: Understanding Capitalism in a Christian Context.” Treiber opened her speech with the statement, “It is not difficult to hate Wall Street.” She acknowledged the expectation of liberal arts students to resent the 1 percent and support the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The preliminary round of this year’s competition was held on Nov. 29. Twelve interested students each gave a short speech in front of a panel of judges consisting of Pat Lehman, associate professor of communication and contest director, Jair Hernandez, last year’s first place winner, and Jason Samuel, assistant professor of communication. Of those participants, five were selected as finalists and given an additional two months to amend their speeches and practice their delivery.
Tuesday evening, the speeches were judged on originality, organization, adherence to the theme of peace and justice, research and overall presentation. The judges were Rachel Lapp Whitt, Melissa Kinsey and Michael Yeakey.
Treiber critiqued a number of aspects of the movement from the standpoint of a Christian asking, “What would Jesus do?” Arguing that the movement doesn’t have a clear aim besides criticizing the current system, Treiber encouraged her “fellow 99%” to consider that the quality of intangible investments we sow are just as important as their quantity.
Treiber also challenged Christians to acknowledge that it is more than a small percentage of Americans who participate in a system of socioeconomic injustice. Pointing out that Jesus spent time with the marginalized, Treiber suggested that the audience suspend their judgment and disagree in love with the wealthy minority. Her final critique was that the Occupy Wall Street Movement depends on political change and a restructured system on a political scale, but she called on the church instead to be socially active in creating a change.
According to Treiber, she chose the topic of the OWS movement because she has struggled to understand where she fits into its context. “Despite the appealing nature of massive social upheavals, I felt uniquely alienated by (this movement).” Her hope was that “those in attendance heard God’s voice and not my own. Jesus’ occupation of every heart is the only occupation I am ultimately concerned with.”
Besides coming away with a $500 prize for her presentation, Treiber is eligible to enter the Mennonite Central Committee C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest.
Winning a cash prize of $250 for second place was Alison Reist, a junior sociology major from North Liberty, Ind. who spoke on “Peace Through Sport: The Olympic Vision.” Reist addressed conflicting opinions about the nature of the Olympic games and cited historical examples of how the Olympics have promoted peace between nations. Among these were Ping-Pong Diplomacy and the procession of North and South Korea under one flag during the Sydney Olympics. Reist called for support of the Olympic Truce, an agreement between all participating nations to cease hostilities during the six weeks of the upcoming Olympic games.
Other students who presented in the C. Henry Oratorical Contest were:
Abby Deaton, a first-year psychology and communication double major from Indianapolis, who presented on “Educating the Hearing on Deaf Education: Mainstreaming versus Residential Schooling.”
Ben Baumgartner, a senior Bible and religion major from Hesston, Kan., presented “Reconciling Relationship: Mennonite Encounters with Muslims.”
Aranza Torres, a first-year peace, justice and conflict studies and Spanish double major from Waco, Texas, who presented “Our DREAM,” calling for support for the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
According to Lehman, who was instrumental in organizing the event, the tradition of the oratorical contest is important because “speaking articulately about issues of peace and justice is an essential part of a Goshen College student’s education. In addition, this contest and the opportunities it brings help us to build on our core values of global citizenship and compassionate peacemaking.” She added that, because they were selected for the public event, each speech was a noteworthy and winning presentation.