By Zoe Wang (IV)

On February 21, 2020, six finalists took part in the annual Lebow Oratorical Competition. The competition was created by classmates of Dr. Robert H. Lebow ‘58 in honor of his passion for public speaking. Dr. Lebow used public speaking to support the global need for healthcare reform while he traveled to developing countries to provide medical services with his wife, Gail. His legacy is celebrated to this day by members of the sophomore and junior class, who write and deliver 4 ½ to 6 ½ minute speeches for his namesake competition. 

The preliminary round took place over two days, where 21 students competed for six spots in the final round. There were two rooms with two judges each, and the top three scores from each room advanced. The speeches, which ranged from persuasive to informative, were judged using a rubric that focused on the flow, organization, and delivery of the overall speech. This year’s finalists were Noah Bergam (V), Cal Mahoney (V), Alex Kaplan (V), Ajuné Richardson (V), Carolyn Coyne (V), and Martine Bigos (IV).

Bigos spoke first with her speech titled “Schlemiel, Schlimazel.” She juxtaposed herself with the character Garry from NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Garry is known as a klutz by his co-workers and is thought of as nothing more than the little mistakes he makes. Bigos looks back on her own experiences, acknowledging that she too has her moments. Nevertheless, she stressed the importance of not being “defined by your worst mistakes.” 

The next speech was Bergam’s “Big Fish in the Pingry Pond,” which he began by discussing students’ lack of participation in September’s Global Climate Strikes and Pingry’s general taboo on politics and debate. He expressed his hope that Pingry students can embrace more timely and less universally agreeable political discussion, in the classroom, clubs, and ultimately, in the LeBow competition itself. Noah suggested that “debate isn’t about winning—it’s about learning . . . disagreement is tiresome and messy, but it’s necessary.” 

Next, Mahoney delivered their speech entitled “Cancelling Cancelling.” They began by relaying a memory of their first minor fender-bender while on their way to school. Mahoney recognizes that “mistakes are inevitable when someone is new to something, but how you respond to them is up to you.” They explain that in today’s society even a small misunderstanding can lead to someone being “cancelled.” Closing the speech, Mahoney affirmed the idea that a person’s mistakes should be treated with kindness in order to help them learn.

Then, Kaplan described how drama became his passion in his speech “The Pursuit of Passion.” It all started in fifth grade when he signed up to act in the Lower School’s rendition of The Wizard of Oz. He emphasized that the older he gets, the harder it is to weave his passion into his schedule, as a result of society’s focus on “non-passions.” Ultimately, Kaplan affirmed that he can have the profession he wants, while also enjoying his passion. 

Richardson’s (V) “The Color of Music,” which highlights her identity as an African-American through her changing taste in music, followed. She grew up listening to artists like John Legend and Ne-Yo. Though, as her music taste started drifting from her family’s roots, her friends and family started calling her “white,” which caused her to struggle with her identity. Now, she is back to listening to the music of her childhood and is proud to embrace her identity as a “young black woman.”

The final speech was Coyne’s “Tell Me About Yourself.” In her speech, she addressed the question “Who are you?” She explained that most people’s usual response includes quick facts about themselves instead of more revealing personal principles. Coyne emphasized the need for everyone, including herself, to be alone sometimes in order to take care of themselves and learn more about who they truly are. 

Ultimately, Mahoney was declared the winner and Ajuné Richardson was made the runner-up. In the end, the Lebow Oratorical Competition is a great tradition at Pingry that continues to provide students not only the opportunity to present their talents in public speaking, but to also spread a message they’re passionate about.