By Emma Drzala (V)

As we approach the end of the winter trimester, the Pingry community finds that it is once again time for the annual Robert H. LeBow ‘58 Oratorical Competition. The contest was founded by the Pingry Class of 1958 (LeBow’s graduating class) and William Hetfield (‘58), in honor of their classmate, Robert LeBow. Featuring six student speakers with four-and-a-half to six-and-a-half minute speeches, the assembly is consistently deemed a favorite among the school community. This year, the competition was organized by Ms. Judy Lebowitz, and was open to students from both the sophomore and junior classes. From a pool of 26 students in the preliminary round, the top six advanced to the finals: Martine Bigos (V), Elspeth Campbell (V), Caleb Park (V), Milenka Men (IV), Sophia Lewis (V), and Israel Billups (V). They will be judged by a diverse panel of teachers and administrators, as well as the past two winners of the LeBow Competition: Cal Mahoney (VI) and Noah Bergam (VI).

Of the contestants, Martine Bigos was the only one who qualified for the finals last year. This year, she wrote a speech entitled “All That’s Left.” In it, Bigos expresses her concern about our actions as high school students, and how everything we do seems to be for an end goal, rather than for our enjoyment or the betterment of society. She also discusses dishonesty in today’s world, and how the majority of students are looking for ways to “win”—whether that be getting into college, or winning a competition—rather than truly caring about what they are doing. Rather than writing about something that she did not have a passion for just because she felt the judges would appreciate it, Bigos decided to write about the need for winning in society today. There is a beauty in her speech that cannot be replicated, and Pingry students will surely be able to relate to the message of it. 

Elspeth Campbell (V) wrote a speech entitled “We, the Politicians.” Her idea came about after reading a compendium of internet conspiracy theories in the New York Times. Confounded by the juxtaposition between baseless theories and factual journalism, Campbell began writing a speech about the dangerous effects of factionalism on social media. She initially believed that the exponents of such ideologies were only harming themselves. However, she soon realized that her speech seemed both prescient and naïve, and was enlightened on how misinformation is able to prevail so easily today. Campbell confronted the obvious hypocrisy of her argument wondering, “How could I, someone who was too nervous to speak in class, let alone share my political beliefs, encourage others to participate in political discussions?” Her speech became an exercise in introspection, designed to empower both herself and her peers.

The next finalist is Caleb Park (IV), with “My Dark, Beautiful, Twisted Isolation.” Park’s speech analyzes isolation during quarantine; he believes that sometimes, isolation can lead to a masterpiece, citing both Kanye West and Ludwig van Beethoven as examples of this theory. He mentions that although on a surface level, isolation appears to be a pain to us, but it actually gave us an opportunity to explore ourselves and to make time for personal growth and realization. Park also talks about his first encounter with isolation and that is where his inspiration for his speech came about. His speech is captivating in that everyone can think back to their quarantine experience and wonder if a “masterpiece” came from it. 

Milenka Men’s (IV) “We’ve Kept the Mountains and Lost the Grass” is a speech about social interaction during COVID-19, and how quarantine has affected our social psyche as a community. She describes her speech as something that has “evolved into a discussion of how the structure of our social lives has been altered as a whole.” Her inspiration behind the speech came from her own personal experience with quarantine; when quarantine began, Men initially enjoyed the break and the time it gave to her. She was able to explore herself, which allowed her to realize her introverted nature. Similar to Caleb Park, Milenka takes on the difficult subject of quarantine and what it meant to her. 

Next is Sophia Lewis (V) with “Self Care [sic] Isn’t Caring for Me Anymore.” Lewis’s speech discusses her frustration with self-care. She felt that recently, self-care has dwindled down to becoming superficial, which she believes is unacceptable. In her speech, she discusses self-care and what it means to her, as well as how it has come to affect her. 

The final speech is “The Velocity of Fear.” Written by Izzy Billups (V), the speech is centered around the magnitude of fear in society today. Billups discusses how fear is what leads to the destruction of embracing personal thoughts and ideals. She aims to communicate that we should not fear being different, but rather embrace the idea of breaking out of the box that society has set up for us. Finally, she notes that no two people are the same, so in turn, we as a community should not conform to the pressures of society. Billups drew inspiration from a mere conversation with her sister, proving that universal truths can come to us at any moment. After realizing that both she and her sister have been making decisions based on how they would be perceived in society, Izzy decided to write a speech to combat the mentality of fear controlling so many people, thereby naming it “The Velocity of Fear.”

The competition will be held on February 19 in Hauser Auditorium. Good luck, finalists!