At the end of last semester, students in Oratory class kept alive the custom of delivering their capstone speeches to fellow students and faculty. Only this year, the Brooksians performed their work entirely online, sharing personal speeches from home for all to hear, Great Pond Road to the other side of the globe.
"There is a long and proud tradition of the Oratory students delivering their speeches to the entire Brooks community," English teacher and Associate Head of School for Faculty Affairs John McVeigh wrote in an email to students and employees before the first set of remarks were shared in December. "While everyone wishes we could gather together in person to hear them, all ... are welcome and encouraged to watch them in real time on the livestream."
Fifteen students crafted their roughly ten-minute orations — addressing any topic of a student's choosing — for weeks, following a study of the "foundational elements of a great speech," as the course description explains, and practice on their delivery style. "The speeches are wonderful and they all provide a bit more insight into each of our speakers: who they are, what they've been through, and what is meaningful in their lives," said McVeigh.
But sharing thoughts and feelings is just one of many reasons why Delia Johnson '21, for one, enrolled in the class and wanted to participate in the tradition. The biggest reason why she chose to take Oratory, she said, was "because public speaking is a really important skill to have but it is something that makes me really nervous. I knew that if I took this course I would feel more comfortable getting up and talking in front of people."
On her big day, Johnson admitted she did get butterflies. "I felt really nervous before giving my speech but after I felt so relieved and like all my work all semester actually paid off!"
Tate Moody '21 shared the sentiment. "I wanted to take Oratory in order to step out of my comfort zone — and also to share a story not many may know about me," she said. "I fully enjoyed the course material of this class as it was a challenge, yet one of the most fun challenges I have ever encountered."
Even though each student gave their speech alone, McVeigh credits the time they spent working together, in class, as key to each's individual success with their final presentation.
"Peer feedback and constructive criticism is a huge part of what we do in Oratory, and these students have found the perfect balance of helping each other improve their work while also providing support and confidence," said the teacher, who also commended the group for their positive energy and work ethic. "Those connections are particularly important at a time like this. Five of our students were online this fall, but this group was able to stay connected and cohesive in their approach."
In the end, the fact that their speeches weren't performed in Chapel was just another thing to which students, and the audience, needed to adjust in 2020.
"The virtual experience does not quite capture the energy and connection that usually happens in the Chapel," McVeigh reflected. "There is something so invigorating about standing up in front of your family and friends that is both terrifying and empowering at the same time. This is particularly true when the speech ends, as there is no virtual way to replace the standing ovation or the line of people waiting to hug you when you finish. But the virtual format does allow people from all over the world to witness the speech live, and it has helped our students to connect with many people from outside of the Brooks community."
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