Public speaking competition focuses on social media and politics

Edward Pankowski wins the UConn communications department's fourth annual public speaking competition in the Student Union Theatre in Storrs, CT, Monday, April 3, 2017. The event was hosted by Professor Rory McGloin and Sharde Davis. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus) 

Edward Pankowski wins the UConn communications department's fourth annual public speaking competition in the Student Union Theatre in Storrs, CT, Monday, April 3, 2017. The event was hosted by Professor Rory McGloin and Sharde Davis. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus) 

The UConn Communication Society held their fourth annual public speaking competition Monday night, where students gave engaging and thought-provoking speeches about the role of social media in political discourse.

Edward Pankowski, a sixth-semester political science major, won the competition’s first place prize, a $250 scholarship.

The competition was broken into three segments: a prepared speech about mass media’s role in current political events, a question and answer portion where a judge asked the contestants a question based off their speech and an impromptu segment, where contestants were read a prompt and given 10 minutes to compose a speech.

Pankowski’s speech focused on the mob mentality common on social media and how mistakes can affect a person forever now that a large portion of our lives are documented online.

Pankowski told the story of Justine Sacco, a director at a communications company, who sent out an offensive tweet and, as a result, was fired from her job and harassed online. The tweet read: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

“A campaign started on social media, picked up by tens of millions of Twitter users, then Buzzfeed, the Daily Beast and the New York Times,” Pankowski said. “Hashtag: Fire Justine Sacco. And it worked.”

Pankowski pushed the idea that “one dumb joke in one dumb moment” should not define someone’s life.

“A black mark like that on your digital profile is every bit as real as a scarlet letter on your chest in the 17th century,” Pankowski said.

Nicholas Hartunian, a second-semester computer science major, detailed the time he made a second Facebook profile and liked only conservative pages to combat Facebook’s algorithm that typically shows users links and content that align with content they’ve already “liked.”

“Scrolling through this other Facebook felt more like a parallel universe,” Hartunian said. “Where I’d normally see posts about women’s rights, I saw posts about second amendment rights. Where I would normally see posts calling Republicans hateful, I saw them call [liberals] sensitive.”

Christine Martin-Kisby, a sixth-semester communication major, used humor in her speech, making her stand out from the rest of the contestants.

“If we continue to allow social media and sources like Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan to dictate how we’re going to make political and social decisions, Kanye West is going to be the President of the United States,” Martin-Kisby said. “Now I know that that’s funny because, c’mon guys, a pop culture icon could never possibly become president.”

Rory McGloin, UConn communication professor and host of the event, said the purpose of the public speaking competition is to showcase the talent students at UConn have, as well as discuss relevant issues.

“In 2016…. it was obvious people were going to use social media as the primary platform to share their thoughts,” McGloin said of this year’s theme. “It’s the new coffee shop. It’s the new billboard.”

Second-semester students Amanda Kelly and Taylor Globelnich attended the event and said they thought the competition was intriguing.

“I thought it was going to be really boring,” Kelly said with a laugh. “I’m here for extra credit, but it’s actually really interesting.”

Globelnich added her and Kelly are in UConn’s public speaking class together and praised the contestants who competed.

“We’ve seen how hard it is in our class,” Globelnich said, of public speaking.

“I have a lot of respect for it,” Kelly added.


Schae Beaudoin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at schae.beaudoin@uconn.edu.