Six students were selected to present a 10-minute Ted-Talk style presentation for the Gordon College Fine Arts’ 2022 JUD Talk event. Hosts were Nicholas Markham (‘23) and Quentin Cole (‘24), first and second place winners of the 2021 competition. After a rigorous audition process, six students were selected to present their speeches: Miranda Taylor (‘22), Tirzah Zaccagni (‘25), Caleb Railsback (‘24), Virginia Vienneau (‘23), Evan Page (‘23), and Elisheva LoSardo (‘22). Selected students were coached by Communication Arts faculty members Dr. Chris Underation and Dr. Rachel Yoo. The three judges, previous JUD Talk winners and Gordon alumn were Robert Mech (‘19), Jes Mabanglo-Burgett (‘20), and Noelle Graves (‘93).
Starting off strong, the title of Miranda Taylor’s JUD Talk was titled “The Empathy Gym,” in which she argued that our society today has lost the ability to empathize with one another. She began with the phrase, “empathy is a bridge that allows for understanding,” then dove into the psychological and emotional aspects of theater that can bring people to understand one another, her experience with Gordon’s production of Steel Magnolias as a Type 1 Diabetic being one of them. These three points were “storytelling for the brain,” “mirror neurons,” and “collective action.” Towards the end of her speech, she talked about the selflessness that goes into being empathetic, saying, “to be empathetic, we have to step outside of ourselves.” Her Talk challenged people to step outside their comfort zone and to feel for other people, even if one might not understand exactly what another is going through.
Tirzah Zaccagui’s Talk, titled “The Power of a Meal,” presented data that shows how long people spend at the table a day to eat with one another, and how it proved that having a meal together is not a priority in our society. After saying, “eating a meal that was prepared by the hands around the table draws the community closer together,” Tirzah stated that to build and strengthen community, that community needs to establish interdependence, and having a meal together is a good way to do that.
Next, Caleb Railsback’s Talk was titled “Life Lessons from a Leader Dog, Dax,” in which he talked about his experience with his service dog, and the important lessons he learned from him that can help humans improve their character in their everyday lives. These three lessons were to 1. listen with focus and intention, 2. lead, don’t follow, and 3. focus and pursue the end goal. Not only did Caleb give the audience information about service dogs that many people were not informed of before, but he also challenged the audience to use the lessons they learn from dogs and apply them to their own lives.
In her Talk, titled “The Sacred Mundane,” Ginny Vienneau talked about how many people seem to view their lives as “dull” as they get older. She made the claim, “humans can make anything boring,” but shifted towards encouraging the audience to change their view on the lives they have been given. Ginny talked about humanity tends to make magic seem mundane, then challenged the audience to make the mundane seem like magic and change their perspective on their lives.
In his Talk, titled “God is a Friend of Evolution,” Evan Page discussed how God and evolution can coincide together, which many Christians find difficult to believe. Not only did he challenge the audience to look at the concept of evolution with a new perspective, but he also pointed out the fact that people tend to surround themselves with people who think like them to avoid being told that their ideas may be wrong.
Ending off the event, Elisheva LoSardo Talk, titled “My Body, Not Your Punchline,” told a series of disheartening stories about her own experiences as a plus-sized woman, and how society needs the way they promote body positivity. She brought up examples of how the media portrayed plus-sized women, and how that made her view her body in a negative light. In addition, she discussed how the media has a double-standard on body positivity, developing phrases that are supposed to uplift women’s bodies, while also ridiculing women for how God created them. Elise challenged the audience to not jump to conclusions on a woman’s body, and to not use the repetitive phrases they think they should say that have potential of tearing women apart instead of lifting them up.
The judges declared the third-place prize to Miranda Taylor, the second-place prize to Elisheva LoSardo, and both first-place prize and People’s Choice Award to Virginia Vienneau.
Taylor writes, “JUD talks was an amazing experience. I was able to vulnerably able to discuss three topics that were very important to me: empathy, theatre and type one diabetes. It has been really exciting to see how people were impacted by it and people continue to reach out to me asking how they can grow their empathy AND help people with type one diabetes.”
LoSardo says, “It was honestly really cathartic for me. . . . It was really stressful coming straight out of Steel Magnolias, but it was a really cool experience and I’m glad I did it, and people seemed to like my speech!”
LoSardo mentions a fun fact that judge Jes Mabanglo-Burgett, who lived in the same apartment she’s in now, won JUD Talks when LoSardo was a freshman, participated in Golden Goose, and Gordon Globes. She was a huge inspiration for LoSardo, who has now done nearly all of those things in her own time at Gordon.
Vienneau recalls that her speech began when she saw a Tumblr post complaining about having to grow up in a mundane world without dragons after a childhood of reading adventure books. “And I was like…literally bumblebees exist. Stop complaining and look around and appreciate what you have. Because truly everything can be boring. EVERYTHING. Even dragons.” She says that although everyone is a little sad that they can’t fly or use magic, something as little as standing on a very large rock can do the trick, with some effort.
Her favorite part of preparing for JUD Talks, she says, was “hearing my own ideas told back to me in a little bit of a different way, the way someone heard it or interpreted it.” She states, “The process itself was pretty therapeutic for me too. I let go of trying to rationalize the joy I feel and just let myself feel the joy for the sake of it. This is important to me and that’s all that matters.”