May 29, 2024

JUD Talks Move Audience Members

Anne Shearer '24

Left to Right: Asonye, McDonald, Durkin, Lee and Lonstein. Photo Courtesy of Frankie Noguera.

This year’s JUD Talks featured five students: Jason Asonye ‘25, Sarah McDonald ‘24, Abby Durkin ‘24, Yein Lee ‘27, and Henry Lonstein ‘25. Durkin took first place, with McDonald and Asonye in second and third, respectively. Lonstein won the People’s Choice award. 

Named for the middle name of Gordon’s founder Adoniram Judson Gordon, the JUD Talk competition offers a chance for students to present TED-style speeches to a panel of faculty judges, along with the Gordon community. Gordon’s President Mike Hammond noted the JUD Talks are a valuable forum to practice listening and “respecting how much energy and passion they [the presenters] have for the topics that they research.” He remarked, “It’s just a good model of civility. I love what we’re modeling here, and I hope there’s other ways we can live that out.” 

Contestants were judged based on their speech’s content, including how they captured attention, supported their argument, and organized their ideas. Judges also watched the speech delivery itself for vocal fluency, energy, and movement.  

In her speech, Durkin argued that negative opinions on mandatory chapel attendance are due to consumerism creeping into our worship. She advocated for authentic engagement in chapel, saying students will notice a shift in attitude if they focus on communally worshiping God rather than critiquing services that don’t meet their own desires. “I was very nervous for a long time to give this speech because I knew that the greater Gordon community probably wouldn’t be a huge fan of it,” said Durkin afterwards. “It took a lot of coaching from Dr. Yoo to give me the confidence to feel like I could give a speech where I knew that most people would disagree with me.” 

The competition process is long. Participants first audition their speeches. If they are selected to compete after auditions, they are assigned a faculty coach who helps them hone their speech and its delivery. They work with this coach for multiple weeks as their speeches evolve. Durkin explained that her speech was originally an argumentative style. Changing it to a TED style was a large part of her coaching process. “TED Talk style looks very different, because it’s more story based, and you’re not going in such a logical flow,” she said, “you’re supposed to bounce between your points in the story, versus ‘this is my thesis, these are my three points, this is my conclusion.’” 

Winning second place, McDonald’s speech offered tips on how to curb negative thoughts as one’s body changes throughout life. She noted this is important, because low self-esteem leads to reduced productivity and ambition. Asonye informed audience members about the proven emotional impact of music, advising them to use discernment in the lyrics they listen to. Lee recounted her life living as a stranger in different cultures, and how she ultimately found her home in God. Lonstein outlined the dangers of complacency, especially in men as increasing numbers of children suffer from absent fathers. 

For those without experience in public speaking, there is more technique than meets the ear. “The thing that the judges all noticed and appreciated was that all of the speakers did a great job engaging the audience,” said judge Noelle Graves, “they made their points very compellingly to the point of persuasion. I was personally moved by the speeches.” Graves is a Gordon alumna, and currently lectures in journalism at Boston University. 

Audience member Lukas Karagiorgos ‘25 explained, “the fact that none of them actively or at all used filler words like ‘uhm’ really show that they were able to digest the information.” He said, “that’s something that we don’t always notice in our public speeches is sometimes filler words or . . . jargon we use to help pass time while we gather our thoughts. I think all the speakers did a really good job of being clear.” 

Sarah McDonald leads the audience in a grounding exercise. Photo Courtesy of Frankie Noguera.

Karagiorgos also personally connected to McDonald’s speech. As someone who is open about past struggles with body dysmorphia, he said, “I think what she set forth is really helpful for a lot of people who are new to the topic and maybe don’t have the language.” Graves noted Asonye’s speech caused her to think. “I think I’ve gotten a little lax in what I listen to, and I don’t think a lot about the lyrics sometimes,” she said, “Jason made a terrific point that we need to put more intentionality into what we listen to and understand the effect on us.” 

Durkin expressed thankfulness for the opportunity to compete. It was helpful practice for her as she works towards a future career involving public speaking. “We really stand on the shoulders of the people around us,” she said, explaining that she would not have auditioned for the JUD Talks without the special encouragement of friends and Communication Arts professor Dr. Yoo. She hopes to take that inspiration (along with her trophy and prize money) and pay it forward by encouraging others in their own strengths. 

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