Students deliver commemorative speeches at 23rd annual Public Speaking Contest

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Public Speaking Contest finalists Benjamin Marchitell, far left, Brynna Baldauf and Courtney Tennant, with Grant Cos, associate professor of communication. Marchitell earned first place for his speech about a fellow former Marine.

Choosing to recite the words of a personal hero, three Rochester Institute of Technology students competed in the final round of the 23rd annual Institute Public Speaking Contest on Jan. 27.

Benjamin Marchitell, a second-year criminal justice major, was the first-place winner of $400 with his speech, “In Honor of Jonathan David Sheldon” about a fellow member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

A former Marine, Marchitell served from 2005 to 2009. He was deployed, with Sheldon, in Iraq from September 2006 to April 2007 and again from February to September 2008. The two have known each other for nearly 21 years.

“He has always been there for me, especially in times of turmoil,” Marchitell says. Sheldon, who served for four years, attends Nazareth College.

A tie for second place resulted in an even split of the $200 and $100 prizes among the remaining finalists. Brynna Baldauf, a fourth-year new-media marketing major from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business, honored a Rochester native in her speech, “Remembering George Eastman.”

Courtney Tennant, a second-year management major from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business, celebrated the life of a North Carolina State basketball coach and breast cancer patient in her speech, “In Memory of Coach Sandra K. Yow.”

“I had a great experience with the public speaking contest and found it extremely rewarding,” says Tennant. “I plan on declaring communication as one of my minors, so any speech writing and reciting practice to include in my résumé helps.”

The RIT Department of Communication has coordinated the Institute Public Speaking Contest since 1988 and aims to actively involve more students in public speaking during the academic year. For winter quarter, each student crafted and delivered a six-to-eight-minute commemorative speech to praise, memorialize or celebrate a person or institution.

“The contest will resume in the spring, when students will be asked to compose a persuasive speech on a topic of national or international importance to the RIT community,” says Grant Cos, associate professor for the Department of Communication.

“Additionally, the final round will be held during Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, where finalists will speak before general audiences who are taking in the days events.”

For information about the spring 2011 Institute Public Speaking Contest, visit the Department of Communication’s website, at

Includes reporting by other University News staff writers.