by Joy Esiemokhai
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that speech is to persuade, convert and compel. Five student speakers tried to do exactly that at the 10th edition of the Gibson Public Speaking Contest, held on December 3, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. The event, which was established in 2004, is organized annually to honor University of West Georgia professor emeritus, Dr. Chester Gibson, the former mass communications professor and chair who led UWG, then West Georgia College, to 27 consecutive years of debate glory and left an unparalleled legacy at the university.
Left to right: Betty Andersson, Mary Chandler Crutchfield, Daniel Garner, Brittany Blackerby and Natysha Wright
This year’s event was streamed live over UWG’s Wolf Internet Radio and was emceed by UWG public peaking lecturer, Bruce Daniel. Dr Michael Hester, the dean of Honors College and Trans-disciplinary programs, and debate director at UWG, paid tribute to his teacher, mentor, friend and colleague, Dr. Gibson, who was not able to attend the event. Dr. Paul Weatherton, a former UWG debater and student of Dr. Gibson’s also paid homage to the man who took UWG’s debate team to the very top of its game. Dr. Weatherton was one of the judges at the event, along with repeat-judge Kari Manuel, a Gibson mentee as well, and Dr. Beheruz Sethna, UWG president emeritus.
The five student contestants, specially chosen from hundreds of public speaking students by the UWG speech faculty, were introduced and given approximately five minutes each to present their topics and arguments. The first speaker was Betty Andersson, an international student from Sweden. Her topic, titled “Creating Family Time,” focused on the benefits of parental leave on a family’s happiness. Betty spoke to the packed audience about the effects that a lack of parental leave has on not only familial happiness, but also child wellbeing and the inequality between male and female pay. According to her research, only two states, New Jersey and California, have enacted Paid Parental Leave legislation in the U.S. Betty argued for the adoption of PPL legislation by the remaining U.S. states so as to allow parents spend more time with their children and families.
Mary Chandler Crutchfield, the second student contestant, spoke about the importance of the regulation of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medication. According to Mary, ADHD medications, which are often abused by non-ADHD sufferers, can be addictive and have serious side effects. She said that college students are among the most likely to abuse ADHD medication, such as Adderall, with alcohol. Mary also added that as ADHD is more of a subjectively diagnosed disorder with no physical test to diagnose it, there is an increase in the number of people who are prescribed ADHD medication unnecessarily, including children. In conclusion, she called for stricter diagnosis methods and medication regulation to prevent the misuse, misdiagnosis, early diagnosis and severe risks of ADHD medication.
The gay marriage debate was the topic of the speech by the third contestant, Daniel Garner, which was titled, “Happily Ever After - But Not For Me.” Daniel’s argument centered on the fact that same-sex marriage is illegal in most U.S. states and he claimed that the ban on same-sex marriage is not only discriminatory, but also violates the 14th Amendment, which prohibits states from depriving citizens of equal privileges, protection and rights to life, liberty and property under the law. He claimed that the inability to marry means that same-sex couples are denied the benefits that opposite sex couples are afforded. Daniel also argued that applying religious ideology in banning or arguing against gay marriage is a violation of the 1st Amendment, which enforces a separation between church and state. Daniel concluded by calling for the U.S. to legalize gay marriage so as to allow gay couples the same rights and privileges that same-sex couples are afforded under the law.
The fourth contestant, Brittany Blackerby, said that 43% of teenagers have experienced some type of cyberbullying in the past year alone. Her speech addressed the issue of cyberbullying in today’s technology-oriented world. In her speech, titled “To Tweet or Not to Tweet,” Brittany spoke about the impact cyberbullying has on victims including isolation, physical and mental abuse, and academic disinterest, with many committing suicide as a result of not being able to take to abuse any longer. According to her, cyberbullying can be direct or indirect and is most visible on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Brittany said that with more and more young people using these platforms, the dangers of cyberbullying look set to continue unless firm action is taken against it. She called for active steps to be taken by users, victims, parents and guardians, and ordinary observers to take action against bullying by knowing the signs of bullying and how to help victims. She concluded with a witty and pertinent quote: “Always tweet others the way you want to be tweeted.”
The final contestant of the evening, Natysha Wright, spoke on the use of social media background checks by employers. According to Natysha, there has been a long debate about whether employers should be allowed to use social media sites to prescreen employees and job applicants. Natysha, who supports the use of social media background checks, said that such checks help employers make informed decision about prospective employees. She said that social media often shows a different and truer picture of a possible employee from the one they put up before an employer and that social media prescreens can present a more comprehensive view of an employee by showing the teamwork traits, personal skills, possible ideas and overall persona of that person. Natysha also said that opponents of the stance argue that social media checks are an invasion of privacy and can lead to possible discrimination. She added that opponents claim that a person’s social media persona is often more relaxed, fun and daring, and that employers should not be allowed to judge a person based on what they find on social media platforms. Natysha called for employers to properly and cautiously navigate the thin line between social media checks and invasions of privacy.
The speakers received a rousing round of applause at the conclusion of their presentations. After the judges tallied their scoring, Brittany Blackerby and Mary Chandler Crutchfield tied for fourth place, Betty Andersson and Natysha Wright tied for second place, and with a unanimous decision by the judges, for the first time in the 10-year history of the competition, Daniel Garner won first place for his argument in favor of gay marriage. All of the contestants, along with the judges, received commemoratory plaques as tokens of appreciation for their efforts. The event concluded with a reception to congratulate the speakers for the hard work.The event was sponsored by UWG’s Speech Communication Advisory Committee with support from UWG’s Student Activity Fees Budget Allocation Committee and publishing company McGraw Hill.