Tim Schirack '07 Wins 133rd Baldwin Oratorical Competitionby Brandon Stewart '08 • February 13, 2007
Five finalists competed Monday night in the last round of the 133rd Baldwin Oratorical Contest. It's the oldest continuous public speaking contest west of the Alleghenies, created in 1873 by an endowment from longtime trustee Judge Daniel Pratt Baldwin.
As Victor Nava ’10 stated in his introduction, Baldwin designed the competition to reward those Wabash students who "composed and pronounced the best orations." As with most everything at Wabash, there is a tradition attached to the competition. At the conclusion of the first contest, Baldwin gave each contestant a volume of the complete works of Shakespeare, which is a tradition that has continued since that time.
The subject of this year’s contest was entitled "Facebook Identities in a MySpace Society" which challenged students to "consider the popularity and potential implications of social networking websites, such as MySpace and Facebook."
The humorous mood found in many of the speeches began with Grant Gussman’s presentation entitled, "Get the Word Out". His speech centered on the concept that a "social networking revolution is upon us" and that we are eagerly embracing the revolution without reflection. He jokingly remarked that with all the information we put online, what need is there for a first date which is usually full of questions about routine information now readily accessible online.
Matt Olivarez ’08 took a slightly more philosophical approach, warning that Facebook was only giving rise to the facilitation of factioning in society. Furthermore, he counseled, the greatest danger of these types of social networking sites is their simple cataloguing of people’s interests and beliefs. Whereas before you had to engage a person to find out what, why and how someone believed something, one can simply look this information up online without any deeper analysis.
Freshman Daniel King ’10 took the podium to confess that Facebook and MySpace were his own personal addictions. He verbalized his concern that these sites, an outgrowth of the first Classmates.com website in 1995, were giving birth to a generation stunted in their ability to socially interact physically. His concern was that more and more students are finding that they need a computer between them and another person in order to communicate.
"I believe my generation is losing those social skills we learned in preschool," King said.
Ross Dillard ’07 took a much different approach than the other contestants. He likened the technology behind sites like Facebook and MySpace to the invention of the radio of in the 1930s. Rather than a bourgeoning societal problem, Dillard sketched out his views that this was just another small step in a larger movement. Rather than viewing the situation as others had suggested, Dillard said, it is better to conceive the situation like a rung of a ladder. On lower rungs lie inventions like television and radio. On the current rung we have these new social networking websites. What, pondered Dillard awaits us on the next rung?
Tim Schirack ’07 gave a quite humorous speech on the rather distorted representations of ourselves that is possible on the internet. Rather than accept Dillard’s premise that we are becoming more honest through this emerging technology, Schirack followed the premise of earlier speakers that it is in fact becoming easier to be dishonest. He stated that not only do we create a separate "internet alter-ego" based on how we want to be seen, but we have also distorted the definition of friendship with these websites.
The judges serving for this year’s Baldwin were Greg Miller ’83, Professor of French Veronique Zara, and Dean of Advancement Joseph Emmick ’92. After some deliberation, the judges announced that Tim Schirack was the winner of the competition and will have his named engraved on the Baldwin Oratorical plaque mounted in the Ball Theater Lobby. Grant Gussman ’09 placed second and Daniel King ’10 placed third. Ross Dillard ’07 and Matt Olivarez ’08 were the other two finalists.
Said Bobby Brandt ’08, who attended the event, "I thought it was an important topic to discuss because it is a relevant issue for our generation today. Overall, I felt like all the contestants gave really outstanding speeches."
David Timmerman, Rhetoric Professor, stated a big concern for his department was to "find and develop the public voice" of the Wabash student body. As an essential core of the liberal arts training, Rhetoric has always been deemed a necessary requirement for participating in democracy, a tradition that can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. And that tradition lives on in this competition, starting with Columbus Delano Whitehead, the first student to win the award and continues on each year with each new contestant.
"The subject of this year’s contest was entitled "Facebook Identities in a MySpace Society" which challenged students to "consider the popularity and potential implications of social networking websites, such as MySpace and Facebook."
In photo: Grant Gussman makes his presentation. Photo by Brock Johnson '07