The Dannis B. Eaton Speech Competition took place on Wednesday, Nov. 16 in Presentation Hall in the School of Communication and Media for the first time since the Fall of 2019. Six Montclair State University students advanced to the finalist level with three of them taking first, second and third place awards along with general awards for advancing as finalists in the competition.
In the past, the competition was a variety of student speeches relating to different topics. This year’s speech competition centered around the School of Communication and Media’s multi-organization Focus project, which focused on democracy and the high stakes of the 2022 midterm elections.
Dannis B. Eaton, the namesake of the competition, was a professor who taught at Montclair State University for 25 years before passing away in 1992. His honor flows through the competition each year, and Marylou Naumoff, an assistant communication studies professor and coordinator of the Fundamentals of Speech program, spoke about the deeper history of the competition.
“The Dannis B. Eaton Speech Competition has been around since before the School of Communication and Media was even founded,” Naumoff said. “It was originally a big event when communication studies was still its own department.”
Naumoff also spoke about her experience running the competition and why she believes it is important to hold it every year for Montclair State students.
“When I took over as the coordinator several years ago, I wanted to bring the competition back and open it up to the entire campus because I think speech is such a powerful tool,” Naumoff said. “We all have access to it and the ability to use it.”
The finalists were given the topic of voting to mix with their own creativity in their speech capabilities. The students’ speeches centered around the importance of voting, why civic engagement matters, why democracy matters, why people should or should not vote and an overview of the current overriding two-party political system over smaller parties.
Once the finalists finished their speeches, the judges announced the winners. The top three speakers in first, second and third place won a $300, $200 and $100 prize, respectively. There were also cash prizes for those who did not place in the top three.
Aamani Jenkins, a freshman communication and media studies major and the second-place winner of the competition, shared how participating in the competition was rewarding for her.
“Having most of the finalists in my class, I know how they perform, so it was hard to gauge who would win, but being able to even place feels like a big honor and I know I’ve grown in my class,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also shared why she was happy to talk about such an important and universal topic relating to those who she cares about the most.
“I felt very passionate about what I spoke about,” Jenkins said. “I covered a wide range of topics, each one very much heavily relating to my family, friends and myself. I was very happy and proud of myself to share those messages with tonight’s big audience.”
Emma Haskell, a freshman communication and media studies major and winner of the speech competition this year, spoke about how the dedication involved in winning this event made for a memorable night.
“It’s a really exciting feeling,” Haskell said. “I’ve worked really hard, I memorized my speech, I’ve been preparing for a while for this so it’s a very good feeling.”
Haskell continued to talk about why she felt the topic of the speech competition this year was meaningful for the lives of others in the United States and herself.
“I think speaking about voting was really important to me because I voted this year,” Haskell said. “Voting in general is important to everybody in our country so I think talking about that tonight helped me get my message out there and show people what it’s like to vote and get their voices heard.”