By Philip Nice
EDMOND—Eight student speakers opened up to their peers and their faculty on February 18 at the 11th Herbert W. Armstrong College speech banquet, an annual tradition that highlights the oratory program.
As students and faculty in formal attire sat in the John Amos Field House dining hall among and beneath decorations representing stars, nebulae, the Hubble Telescope and the Milky Way, freshman speech instructor and toastmaster Roger Brandon revealed the sophomore class’s theme for the evening, “Planting the Heavens” and introduced the speakers for the night.
Senior Reniel Padua led the program with “Take the First Step.” The student body president took the podium with characteristic sprightliness—and striking headgear. Peering from beneath his conical Asian straw hat, Padua related his freshman fears with animated gestures and a comical glint. The native Filipino kept the crowd laughing as he relived his fears, switching his headwear with each point: rice shortages, CrossFit workouts, cycling, and basketball ineptitude.
Michelle Cuenco focused her speech on the “Swans In Flight” sculpture ornamenting the campus auditorium. The senior delivered facts about swans in particular: their grace, their size, the strength of their wings, and, in England, their possession by the Crown. These birds’ regal characteristics, she said, make them the best symbol to denote the inspirational and spiritual significance of what is happening inside Armstrong Auditorium.
Junior James Brandon turned the audience’s attention to bodily health, explaining the role of muscle fascia, muscular sheathing that facilitates motion. Brandon said that this tissue can become strained by something as simple as sitting too long and recommended three solutions, “because after all, no one likes crusty muscle fascia”: pressuring a “pain ball” against the aggravated muscle, dynamic and static stretching, and drinking more water in order to “Melt the Fuzz.”
Junior Tabitha Burks took a different angle on fitness in “Welcome to God’s Gym.” She spoke about “Fran”—her dreaded CrossFit routine that triggers denial, then fear, then flight syndrome, then a realization that “you are being totally ridiculous,” then the resolve to meet the challenge head-on. Burks called her own “most notorious workout” “Tabitha,” and related how her speech banquet assignment triggered a similar internal struggle. She said that we all can tackle our most notorious workouts—ourselves—head-on with God’s help.
Tonya Wainwright, a junior, took the evening to the next level of depth. In a soft but clear voice, Wainwright recalled how her family life had fallen apart and she had struggled to cope. She shared her miraculous experiences of being accepted to Armstrong College on her third application despite a lack of means, then being accepted to the upperclass program, then discovering that members in congregations back home were mustering the funds to pay her way when she could not, then seeing the headquarters congregation rally to encourage her younger brother. Her heart-to-heart speech was named, “The Provider.”
Grant Turgeon, the only lowerclassman on the roster, followed Wainwright’s speech about a spiritual Father with “A Father’s Love” on the physical level. The sophomore described record-breaking sprinter Derek Redmond’s race during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona: Redmond sprinted through the first 150 meters, then felt his hamstring explode with pain. But not only did he stand up and hobble forward, but Redmond’s father came out of the stands and through security to finish the race with him, side-by-side. The moment is one of the most iconic in Olympic history.
Junior Sharalee Fraser followed by sharing a personal experience with the audience, heart-to-heart. Fraser told the story of what happened to her in 2007, 52 weeks that started out normally but then shattered into a terrible trial when her parents separated. She recalled her father encouraging her to apply for Philadelphia Youth Camp, and how, against the odds, she was accepted. She said that the leadership of her counselor and the need for her to give to younger campers helped her bear the struggle at home, a powerful turnaround that took place in “Only Three Weeks.”
Justin Bacon was the final speaker to take the lectern. Known for his humor, Bacon began by describing his twin brother being born—coming into the world quietly, almost inquisitively—then himself coming into the world, flailing and screaming, “with my brother’s footprint imprinted on my forehead.” But Bacon took the crowd beyond the humor to a much deeper place. The senior relived with an almost-motionless audience the most tragic experiences of his life in a manful display of emotional grip and rigid determination to deliver a convicting message. He said that those who commit their lives to God have to give an answer; “Are You Ready for the Question?”
At the conclusion of the evening, guests lingered to do some talking of their own, congratulating speakers and stepping outside into the cold night to take in one more aspect of the theme: telescopic views of the heavens.
Mr. Brandon remarked about the power of controlled emotion in public speaking. “The better you connect with your audience, the better the communication,” he said. “Just being able to speak well is not enough,” he said. “Every time we speak needs to be a gift; a gift that can be passed on and on.”