by Zachary Lee
With commencements and graduations nationwide either being cancelled or going virtual, the Veritas Forum is ensuring that before the year ends, members of the Class of 2020 still get to share their stories. The organization, which places historic Christian faith in dialogue with other beliefs and invites participants from all backgrounds to pursue Truth together, has partnered with The Augustine Collective and Comment Magazine to launch the #My2020CommencementSpeech Contest, which will publish five commencement speeches written by graduating seniors. All graduating seniors are invited to participate. In May, Comment will publish the winning speeches online, and Veritas will publish videos of the authors delivering those speeches on its social channels. Additionally, the five winners will each receive $200 Amazon gift cards.
While this season seems like a bizarre time for celebration and reflection, it is exactly because of its unprecedented nature that Veritas Forum wants to host this contest. “This year, students have had to rethink questions of purpose and vocation thrusted upon them without being asked if this was okay,” Bethany Jenkins, Vice President of Media, told The Sun. “The wisdom you guys are being forced to embrace in this moment is something we think is worthy of commemoration.”
Above all else, Veritas Forum hopes that the contest provides a space for students to live an “examined life,” processing and asking questions that might otherwise be buried in a mound of homework, applications and theses. “What are we lamenting? Where can we be creative? What are we hopeful about? Regardless of whether you’re one of the five winners, you can at the very least use this contest as a way to ask those big questions,” Jenkins shared. In pursuit of this, she acknowledges that these speeches, published or not, can at least be shared with one’s network, community and friends, whether as a Facebook post or in a local paper.
This opportunity certainly is an exciting one, but it can nevertheless be daunting to place your own narrative in the midst of the disruptive changes sweeping the world. On advice and counsel of exploring this tension, Jenkins is encouraging students to examine their own stories and contextualize them with all that’s been going on in the world. “We’re going to be looking for diversity of perspectives, different majors, and faith backgrounds. We’re not looking to publish five of the same speeches. We want people to lean into the unique story that they are,” she stated. “In Steve Job’s speech Life’s Greatest Invention (is Death), there is this profound call to examine your life in light of death, but he [also] reflects on his own personal experience with this call in how he battles cancer. He articulates this personal and painful thing that is happening to him and how that makes him think of this larger thing (death) that we’re all experiencing. That made for a great speech. The best ones are those that call us into the common experience of the speaker. Some speeches focus only on the articulation of the external circumstances at the expense of talking about their personal experience and how these circumstances have affected them. Maybe your audience doesn’t have the same external circumstances, but if you’ve done your job, the reader can totally understand the internal problem because they’ve had those feelings.”
If you want further reading, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is a surprising yet helpful blueprint to follow. Jenkins explains, “There’s the scene where Katniss Everdeen’s external problem is having to survive the games, but her internal problem is her question of how she can maintain integrity and still survive. She realizes that she’d rather die (i.e. eat the nightlock) than lose integrity. One of the reasons why I love that story is not because I can identify with those external problems, but [because] I can identify with a situation where I can both survive and maintain integrity. The thing we’ll identify with is not just the fact that COVID-19 is disrupting classes. It’s the fear we all have about it and the emotional toll it has taken on us.”
Seniors: it can be tempting to make a speech solely consisting of analysis of these past few months, but this contest provides a much-needed opportunity to reflect on our lives across all four years. So, Class of 2020, apply here at: bit.ly/My2020CommencementSpeech
And may the odds be ever in your favor.
To learn about Comment Magazine: www.cardus.ca/comment
To learn about The Veritas Forum: www.veritas.org
To learn about The Augustine Collective: augustinecollective.org
Zachary Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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