Serious Competition to Be Funny

Kisses, kidnapping and crashes: This year's Wilder Speaking Prize competition winners embraced the challenge to create spoken-word poems or stories with "a lighthearted, humorous look at life" and ran with it.

"It was a much-needed diversion during a stressful time," said English Department Chair Dean Charpentier P '20 of the oral presentations, amid coronavirus and Spring Break preparation. "Everyone had a chance to laugh at themselves and laugh along with others."

The finals — held in the Frank D. Ashburn Chapel the evening of March 3, after an all-school dessert reception in the Center for the Arts — included six speeches before the entire student body by students who advanced earlier through quarter- and semi-final rounds. Following the performances, the audience voted online for their favorites and a panel of faculty judges weighed in, as well. In morning Chapel on March 5, the winners were announced:

  • Zoe Maver '21 won first place (center in photo)
  • Shea Baker '21 clinched second (on right in photo)
  • Matt Lappin '23 earned third place (on left in photo)

"I'm honestly in shock!" Maver said after her victory. "I was really scared about doing it. Normally when I write, I write serious things instead of comedic things so I wasn't really sure how this was going to turn out. It actually turned out a lot better than I was expecting."

This year's theme was designed to encourage students to get outside of their comfort zone, in fact. "It's not easy to be funny," said Charpentier. "The prompt challenged teachers, as well, in finding resources and approaches to teaching someone how to write humor, but that's where the good stuff is: finding your way with students through a difficult process toward a goal."

In 2018, the annual speaking competition got a revamp — 51 years after it was founded!

At all levels of the speaking competition, in individual classes and earlier rounds in front of a small audience, the English teacher noted his pride for students' bravery in putting themselves out there — not to mention their talent. "There were a ton of talks that were hilarious that didn't make it through to the final," he added.

The competitors' maturity in laughing at themselves, "in an honest, self deprecating way," was what most impressed Charpentier, who declared, "They all pulled it off wonderfully."

But don't take his word for it: Watch the winners yourself below . . .

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