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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Oratory Now Brings You the 2019 Spencer Prize

From now until Monday, Dec. 10, Oratory Now encourages faculty members to each nominate up to four promising speakers from the class of ’22 and ’21.5 for the Spencer Prize in Oratory for First-Year Students. The Spencer Prize began last year as a tribute to the late Middlebury professor and trustee John Spencer. Known for his expectation of thoughtful and persuasive public speaking in the classroom, Spencer was a bastion of oral expression in the Middlebury community. Following his passing in late 2016, the Spencer Prize was established to celebrate excellence in oral expression among the first-year class, giving emerging speakers their place next to the writers honored by the Paul W. Ward ’25 Memorial Prize in writing.

Following their nomination by a Middlebury faculty member, students are officially invited to participate in the competition. Coaches from Oratory Now work with the competitors to help grow their public speaking skills and to create a space where experiences can be shared with peers. In January, a qualifying round will be held in each of the five Commons, where speakers will each have three minutes to speak about something they learned in class, connect it to something they care about, and get their audience to care about it too. On Feb. 19 in the Mahaney Center Robison Hall, the five Commons Champions will face off to determine who will be crowned the winner of the 2019 Spencer Prize in Oratory.

“Writing, rehearsing and ultimately presenting my speech were worthwhile experiences I would definitely do again,” said Treasure Brooks ’21, Spencer Prize 2018 Grand Champion, about her journey through last year’s competition. “The audiences at the presentations were supportive and attentive to the point that it almost felt like a big group of friends getting together to swap stories about life. I consider the platform the Spencer Prize has given me a prize in and of itself.”

As oratory coaches, we believe that effective and confident oral expression is an essential skill to have for life at Middlebury and beyond. Employers regularly require oral expression capabilities from their interns and employees, among all disciplines.

“The Spencer Prize was an indispensable way for me to get out of my comfort zone and try something new in my first year,” said Gillinda James ’21, an Oratory Head Coach who competed in the Spencer Prize Wonnacott Commons Championship in 2018. “Little did I know, a three-minute speech would lead to me becoming a head coach with Oratory Now. This summer I interned at Ernst and Young in NYC and found myself in the position to coach one of the professionals there. Very quickly people in the company started to approach me with, “You do work with presentations, right?” My experience with Oratory Now was a unique qualification and instantly made me stand out among my peers. While I am far from the perfect orator, I’ve quickly learned that both my strengths and weaknesses are essential in supporting anyone I coach. I am forever grateful for the people with whom I work and the opportunities that Oratory Now has given me.”

This friendly, community-based competition is a powerful way for students to practice and learn from each other, and for the Middlebury community to show appreciation for the legacy of John Spencer and the importance of oral expression in the classroom. 

Faculty: in order for the second-annual Spencer Prize to be a success, we and the students from the classses of 2022 and 2021.5 need your help. Please visit or go/spencer to submit your nominations by Monday, Dec. 10.

Questions? Feel free to email us at: