Speech Competition Finalists Present on Issues that Hit Close to Home
At Hyde Park's famous Speaker's Corner in London, citizens come together to discuss social issues they are passionate about. A similar tradition exists at Kent State: The Hyde Park Forum is a long-standing public speaking competition, featuring student finalists from COMM 15000: Intro to Human Communication, who perform their persuasive speeches from class. COMM 15000 is open to all Kent State students. This year’s forum, which took place April 12, was the first to be held since 2019 due to the pandemic.
Community members are invited to evaluate the students’ speeches, and the finalists are awarded scholarships.
First Place: Mariah Taylor, ’25 / Topic: Our Opioids
For sophomore Mariah Taylor, an accounting major from Ravenna, inspiration for her persuasive speech topic, “Our Opioids” hit close to home.
“I selected the topic to honor my cousin Omar Burns who died from an opioid overdose last October,” she said. “His birthday was actually the day of the forum. ... It’s important to shed light on such a dark subject to guide those lost to a better life of recovery and inform those who don’t know how to help.”
Through crafting this speech, Taylor learned to incorporate essential communication skills in her speech and in everyday conversations. She says it's important to understand your audience, be an active listener and be engaging.
“Communication is so essential to our culture; it’s unfortunate that it is being replaced with so many other things, distractions really,” she said. “It can be used to save marriages, speak out against injustices, and even help a doctor give the right diagnosis based on what was communicated by the patient. More listening and more conversations can be the cure to what ails this world, it starts with you and I.”
Being a finalist and winning the competition was an opportunity for her to spread awareness to others.
“It meant having the opportunity to help someone else not have to visit their loved one in the cemetery,” Taylor said. “Please stay informed, stay safe, and stay aware.”
Second Place: Morgan Hoover, ’26 / Topic: Stop Saying Sorry
Freshman public relations major Morgan Hoover (Dublin, OH) was inspired to speak on the topic “Stop Saying Sorry” because of personal experiences with over-apologizing.
“I selected the topic of over-apologizing because of personal ties,” she said. “I overuse the words, ‘I'm sorry’ way too often, to the point that it has affected my relationship with myself and others. I wanted to spread awareness of this word's weight and allow everyone else to reflect on if they use it too much because they probably do.”
An important communication skill she learned was to refrain from memorizing speeches.
“It is good, and necessary, to become accustomed to your speech,” Hoover said. “However, once you begin to memorize it, you lose a certain flow. My goal, whenever I was presenting, was to highlight key points, get my quotes straight and remain personable.”
Third Place: Faith Jester, ’25 / Topic: Labels in the Neurodivergent World
Sophomore visual communication design major Faith Jester (Green, OH) was inspired to pursue the topic “Labels in the Neurodivergent World” because of her personal experience living on the autism spectrum.
“I wanted to choose something that meant a lot to me and something that I would want a lot of people to hear if I was going to stand up and speak in front of a bunch of people which was way out of my comfort zone,” Jester said. “This topic is important to me because I am on the autism spectrum myself and I am personally affected by the high-functioning label.”
Through this class, Jester was able to learn and practice plenty of communication and presentation skills.
“I learned how to present more by using change in tone, hand gestures and pausing in my sentence,” she said.
She said she will carry with her lessons in confidence she gained through this process.
“Something I learned in this class that I can apply to other things is to be confident in what you are talking about. I learned that I have so much to share with the world, and I think my teacher realized that and helped break me out of my shell,” Jester said.
Two students earned honorable mentions for their speeches:
- Freshman Kalel Soria, mechanical engineering technology major: "Are You a Good Listener?"
- Sophomore Kelsey Hill, managerial marketing major: "Dove in the Next 10 Years"
First place winner Mariah Taylor also won the People's Choice Award (voted on by the audience).