In one of the nation's oldest collegiate speech competitions, freshman Bryce Chitwood's emotional speech about the demise of the family farm and humorous rendition of "Oklahoma" stole the judges' hearts.
Chitwood, one of two freshmen in Tuesday night's final round, won first prize in the 131st Baldwin Oratorical Contest with his speech entitled "Fighting for the Family Farm."
Junior David Pitcher earned second place with his speech, "Literary Evolution: Innovative Creativity through Radical Resistance," while senior Trey Chinn's speech "The Most Colored of the Colored" captured third place. Senior Jonathan Schwarz and freshman Jeremy Burton also competed in the finals.
The theme of the Baldwin Oratorical Contest this year was "Refuse/Resist," meaning that the orators had to craft speeches dealing with examples of refusal and resistance.
Chitwood wowed the audience by singing made-up lyrics to the musical tune "Oklahoma" to both pay tribute to his home state and to set the tone of his remarks. Having grown up on a dairy farm, the political science major said, "The life I love is being threatened by large corporate farms ... I refuse to allow these large corporate farms to ruin my way of life."
Chitwood suggested that corporate farms (farms with more than 1,000 heads of livestock) hurt local economies, threaten the local environment, and mistreat the livestock.
He concluded his memorized speech with another made-up riff from "Oklahoma."
"We had several great speeches tonight, and not just from the seniors," said speech professor David Timmerman. "I’m particularly thrilled for Bryce Chitwood; not only can he speak extemporaneously with passion, but the man can sing … well! He came to us from Sulphur, Oklahoma and he won the contest speaking before not only his peers but the President of the College, the Dean of the College, and a good number of faculty."
Pitcher, a speech major from Fort Wayne, Indiana gave the rookie a run for his money with his speech about literary figures like William Wordsworth and Alan Ginsburg who resisted societal norms to transform literature and the societies of their time.
Judges of the competition were religion professor David Blix ’70, soccer coach George Perry, and Crawfordsville High School speech and English literature teacher Martha Lewellen. 2004 Baldwin champion Charlie Lopez, a senior speech major, served as master of ceremonies.
"I enjoy great writing, but it is no wonder I’m a speech professor because I love the immediacy, potency, and vulnerability of the public speaking moment even more," said Timmerman. "Each of these fine young Wabash men committed themselves to a live audience through the content of their speeches and the passion of the delivery."
The Baldwin Oratorical Contest began at Wabash in 1873. The contest was endowed by gifts from Judge Daniel Pratt Baldwin, a long-time Trustee and lecturer at Wabash College. Each of Tuesday's finalists received the complete works of William Shakespeare, the precise gift awarded to Columbus Delano Whitehead, the very first Baldwin champion in 1873. The top three finishers in this year's competition also receive cash prizes for their efforts.
"No doubt the Baldwin Oratorical Contest has survived for 131 years at Wabash because it embodies the mission of the college so directly; providing young Wallies with the opportunity to stand and deliver on substantive issues that effect us all," added Timmerman..
At top: Chitwood sings his own lyrics to tune of 'Oklahoma.'
At center right: David Pitcher gives his second-place speech.
At bottom left: The Baldwin finalists.