Student Commencement Speaker Selected from Public Speaking Course

Posted: April 27, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

Giving an eight-minute speech may sound effortless. But not when that speech must be memorized, made applicable to an incredibly diverse crowd and given in front of 10,000 people.

But the seven students enrolled in Mason’s COMM 399 Special Occasions Speaking — a course designed to refine public speaking skills — were up to the challenge.

Each student gave four speeches during the semester to prepare them for the course’s culmination — an audition in front of a seven-member panel for the opportunity to give their speech during the university-wide Commencement on May 19 in the Patriot Center.

“The course has been such a joy to teach; in large part because it’s the last class these students take as undergrads,” says communication professor Peter Pober, who has taught the class for the last four years. “They are very supportive of one another, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie among them. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other.”

Special Occasions Speaking was created eight years ago to help prospective student Commencement speakers prepare and deliver a speech. To enroll in the course, students must be members of the graduating class.

“In some cases, there have been students who have gone from barely being able to stand in front of the class, to delivering inspiring discourses,” Pober says. “It sends chills up my spine to see such remarkable improvements.”

Auditions for the student commencement speech were held April 25. Each student presented a memorized, polished version of their speech to fellow students, faculty and staff members on the panel. The speakers were critiqued on how well their speech was written and the quality of their research, development and overall presentation.

“Through the years we have been very fortunate to receive many outstanding and stimulating entries, and this year was no exception,” says Dan Walsch, university spokesman and member of the selection committee. “All of us at Mason can and should take great pride in the students who participate in this process.”

The student who impressed the committee the most was Whitney Evans, a communication major from Gulf Breeze, Fla. who was chosen to give her speech, “Why Mason,” during Commencement.

Walsch says, “The committee found Whitney’s remarks to be a bull’s-eye in terms of content, cohesion and heart.”

Evans explains that the inspiration for her speech came from being asked countless times why she chose to come all the way to George Mason University from a small town in Florida.

“I’ve always thought that the school spoke for itself,” Evans says. “I find it very curious how many people from around here don’t know what a gem this school really is.”

The “small-town” girl is aware of how significant it is to have been selected and is anxious to deliver her message.

“Not only is it incredibly humbling to be the class representative of one of the most diverse universities in the country,” Evans says, “but to have been picked from a pool of Mason’s best student speakers was just incredible.”

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