Orations Week 2020 Has Arrived!
This week, regular classes are suspended as the seniors at Wyoming Catholic College present their senior orations to faculty, fellow students, board members, and guests of the College. The classrooms are packed, often overflowing, for these thirty-minute presentations, which are often delivered entirely from memory (though a few notes were permitted). Afterwards, the seniors field tough questions for another half an hour.
The Senior Oration is described by the College’s Academic Catalog as “a public lecture of 30 minutes (neither significantly more nor appreciably less), followed by a question and answer period of no more than 30 minutes. The oration is always to be based upon the senior thesis, although it can look to one or another aspect of the thesis topic and need not cover exactly the same ground or utilize exactly the same research. It must be clearly and logically organized, make use of appropriate rhetorical tropes, manifest the speaker’s familiarity with the topic, and exhibit sound judgment. Both the thesis [upon which the oration is based] and the oration are expected to show the characteristic signs of leisurely study: depth and breadth of relevant knowledge, careful and nuanced consideration of ideas, argumentative rigor, confident organization, and a rhetorically effective style.”
President Glenn Arbery says about Orations Week that “it is always a beautiful and moving thing to see our students step into this public arena, where they measure themselves against their professors and the distinguished visiting speakers who have spoken in similar circumstances.” But it is more than just a wonderful culmination of their time here in Lander and a boost to the College community; it is an activity that adds to our students’ formation and prepares them for the tasks that lie before them in their post-graduation endeavors.
Has the capacity to speak well in public ceased to be important? By no means. Effective rhetoric still has extraordinary power. In fact, it can be an antidote to the steady manipulation of opinion through the news media, the entertainment industry, the courts, and the universities. There is nothing as bracing as live, forthright speech, vivid, well-organized, and well-delivered. The schemes and tropes might change with the cultural moment, but what was effective in Aristotle’s day—or Cicero’s or St. Augustine’s—remains effective now. Many things go into the education at Wyoming Catholic College, but I have to think that the oration—this public performance, which every student anticipates from freshman year on—is crucial.
Please keep our Seniors in your prayers as they deliver this week’s orations!