Students Win Debate, Speech Tournament

Sophomore Riley Svikhart

Sophomore Riley Svikhart

Westmont sophomore Riley Svikhart narrowly beat first-year student Michael Deiana in the final debate of the 17th Annual Tournament of Expressions Feb. 28. Svikhart successfully argued that physician assisted suicide should not be made legal in California. Both finalists, who made it through several rounds of the contest that started in January, found out about the debate topic only minutes before the final competition. “The contest emphasizes mental agility as well as critical thinking and public speaking skills,” says Deborah Dunn, Westmont professor of communication studies.

At the event, sophomore Rebecca Shasberger won first place in the Great Speeches portion of the tournament for her delivery of Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Remarks at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. Junior Seth Gruber took second place for his presentation of Charles Spurgeon’s 1864 sermon, “Do You Know Him?” The speeches are chosen by students as exemplars of great speeches — speeches that turned the course of history, transformed a public conversation or changed the course of civilization.

Finalists Rebeccas Shasberger, Seth Gruber, Riley Svikhart and Michael Deiana

Finalists Rebecca Shasberger, Seth Gruber, Riley Svikhart and Michael Deiana

The Westmont tournament originated with a gift from Montecito residents, Bob and Jean Svoboda. The Svobodas, working with the Westmont Communication Studies Department, wanted to inspire and reward active civic involvement among college students. “The theme of the tournament is Passion and Civility, since the Svobodas and the faculty wanted students to be passionate about their ideas while also modeling civility in public discourse,” Dunn says.

Judges for the finals were Michael Graves, visiting professor of communication studies, Peter Buehler, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara, Chandra Mallampali, associate professor of history, Lesa Stern, associate professor of communication and Deborah Dunn, professor of communication. Greg Spencer, professor of communication studies, emceed the event.