This may be the age of Facebook and Twitter, and we may think our young people are more apt to text-message than talk, but this week was a full of young people raising their voices. It was nothing short of thrilling on April 5th to see more than three hundred Penn Staters–mostly students–flock to the Capitol in Harrisburg to participate in Capital Day.
Capital Day is the annual gathering of students, alumni, and Penn State friends in Harrisburg to advocate for state support for the University. Presented in part by the Penn State Grassroots Network, this year’s Capital Day was more highly charged than previous years, given the current budget crisis. The dramatic event including impassioned alumni and student speeches, including an Aristotle-quoting Christian Ragland, outgoing president of University Park’s undergraduate students.
I could lecture until I’m blue in the face that public speaking creates a more democratic society. Afterall, the United States is based on the belief that to thrive we must value the public forum of ideas. Bringing communication students to Capital Day to experience it first hand is the lesson in action.
Later that same day, my family attended the budget meeting at our daughter’s school district, Northwestern Lehigh in New Tripoli. Six hundred residents turned out for a modern, text-message vote-enabled meeting that included a call for audience questions at the end.
To my delight, our 15 year old daughter Emi, a sophomore at the high school, stood up and got in the long line to make an impassioned plea to administrators. She urged decision-makers to keep extracurriculars because, as she said, they “make the total student” along with math, science, English and social studies. As class president and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, Tiger Talk, as well as her effort as a varsity cheerleader, Emi knows that her education is not just coming from textbooks.
There are many reasons why the basic public speech class is a requirement at most universities and colleges throughout the United States. You probably remember taking it yourself. As Steven Brydon and Michael Scott write in their excellent public speaking textbook Between One and Many: There are personal reasons, professional reasons, and public reasons. Those reasons were all on display this week.
Public speaking helps keep our country free.
So the next time you have a chance to make your case publicly, do it. It is imperative for all of us to speak up and speak well!