On a cold snowy day, walking up the ramp to the Feliciano School of Business, carrying Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” in one arm and James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” in the other, Geoffrey Owens made his way to a class of starry-eyed students to speak about writing, presenting and techniques for delivering speeches.
Owens, a humble man with countless talents, agreed to take time and share his life experiences with the students of Montclair State University’s fundamentals of speech class led by adjunct professor Linda Thomas.
Thomas, after watching Owens’ Screen Actors Guild Award speech, was inspired to write a handwritten letter to Owens. The letter Owens received was inspiring and prompted the actor to accept an invitation to speak to a class of aspiring young orators.
The moment he entered the classroom, happy and cheerful, Owens greeted the starstruck students.
Owens, an actor, playwright, director and teacher, notably known for his work as Elvin Tibideaux on “The Cosby Show,” began the lecture with his narrative on the year-long journey with the media and his experiences in writing, presenting and delivering speeches.
Showing the students his novels, Owens explained that his recent, powerful speech given at the Screen Actors Guild Awards is credited to his mastery in managing time limitations and being able to take dynamic pieces of literature, such as Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy,” and structure them in a way that can be communicated to an audience.
“Being an actor, you study many literary forms of delivering speeches,” Owens said. “Haiku, which is a poem of 17 syllables, in three lines of five, seven and five is a device I have used to convey effective messages to audiences.”
Owens kept talking about his speech structures and how the methods would help the audience understand better.
“It is in this form of speech delivery that the concept of limitations, which is how much time one has to deliver information in a speech, that is decorative in style is very important to master,” Owens said.
Owens, who discussed the importance of understanding and having an appreciation for the dynamic nature of communication, expressed to the class of freshmen, sophomore and junior students the value of having substantial experience with speech composition and delivering speeches through a variety of presentations and literary styles.
Students with notebooks wrote down every piece of information given by Owens. They were excited and encouraged to work on their upcoming classroom speeches.
Thomas, who is currently working with students in perfecting their speech writing and presentations, spoke to Owens about the “Cone of Encouragement” she has created for her students.
“In this classroom, we encourage each other,” Thomas said. “The Cone of Encouragement is designed to inspire and provide a relaxed space for students to develop their public speaking skills.”
Thomas, who works with students to establish strong interpersonal relations and cultivate verbal communication skills, was overjoyed at the atmosphere of creativity and inspiration that transpired between Owens and the room of students.
Carlissa Auguste, a junior biology major and student in the fundamentals of speech class, expressed her gratitude for Owens’ words of encouragement and literary methods to help guide the class.
“As a student, we have ongoing struggles and feelings of uncertainty,” Auguste said. “Today I was encouraged to persevere, no matter how hard life gets. Owens’ testimony was a good boost of motivation for all the students today, and his knowledge in speech and communication in which he so graciously shared today was special and for that I am thankful.”
Leaving the students with optimistic views on life, Owens expressed that through it all, he never gave up.
“Not giving up on my responsibilities, not quitting Trader Joe’s and hanging in there was one of the greatest decisions I made,” Owens said. “The best advice I can give anyone is to hang in there and persevere.”