(Posted March 4, 2015)

First -place winner Julia McMurry poses with Juniata President James A. Troha.
First -place winner Julia McMurry poses with Juniata President James A. Troha.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Julia McMurry, a freshman from Kensington, Md., received the first-place award Tuesday night in the annual Juniata College Bailey Oratorical Contest by forcefully presenting the case that Juniata can continue its ascent as a top liberal arts college by offering to meet the financial aid needs of every student who enrolls at Juniata.

McMurry, who received $1,000 for the First Place award, and six other contestants were asked to address the topic: "How can we enhance Juniata's distinctiveness today and ensure its success in the future?" before three judges and an enthusiastic audience of students, Tuesday, March 3 in the von Liebig Theatre in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts on the Juniata campus.

McMurry pointed out that afforbability in higher education is the crucible where all colleges and universities will be tested, saying, "Juniata is distinctive because, for all we can offer, we are a great bargain. However, if Juniata wants to remain attractive to students in the future, we must reaffirm how to remain as affordable as we are rigorous. We can do so by asking these questions: What students does Juniata value? How are Juniata students currently fairing financially? And finally, what can we do for students to insure their financial success, and the success of our institution, in the future?"

McMurry asserted that while 98 percent of Juniata's students receive financial aid, the college only meets about 25 percent of fully demonstrated financial need. Many Juniata students or their families must take out student loans to cover the cost of an education. McMurry's research claimed that Juniata students will owe about $33,000 in loans by the time they graduate. She cited Williams College, the nation's top-ranked liberal arts institution, as an example for Juniata. "Williams has the luxury of a 10-figure endowment. Even so, its commitment to meet 100 percent of demonstrated student need can serve as an example to our institution," she explained. "Many of the most prestigious colleges in the country have adopted a policy of grants-only for needy students. They understand that graduating with too much debt can be detrimental. Not only that, but failing to get students from all economic backgrounds onto campus detracts from diversity, a value Juniata claims to espouse. "

Maverick Force, a senior from Narvon, Pa., earned the second-place prize, receiving $500. Colton Hallabuk a senior from Towanda, Pa., was awarded the third-place prize, receiving $300.

"Let Juniata not contribute to more student debt, or crowd out those who need an educational advantage the most. Let us be, among a sea of glossy college promotionals, distinctive as an amazing bargain. Successful, as a learning environment. A great equalizer."

Julia McMurry, freshman, Juniata College

In her winning speech, McMurry offered a few ideas to help reduce student debt, such as "allowing freshmen to opt out of meal and housing plans as early as second semester, increasing students' financial flexibility. It may mean reducing the value of some merit scholarships, or capping them for a few years, reserving that money instead as need-based grant aid for students who are most disadvantaged. Above all, it will mean demonstrating to donors and trustees that helping poorer students is not only good business, but ethical leadership, and it will keep Juniata relevant through the 21st century.

McMurry underlined her message in the conclusion by saying, "let Juniata not contribute to more student debt, or crowd out those who need an educational advantage the most. Let us be, among a sea of glossy college promotionals, distinctive as an amazing bargain. Successful, as a learning environment. A great equalizer."
The remaining four finalists were: seniors James Imbrie, of Bethel Park, Pa., Coleman Rigg, of Bellefonte, Pa., Natasha Lane, of Huntingdon, Pa.; and junior Ryan Shelton, of Baldwinsville, N.Y. Shelton also received the People's Choice Award, the after-contest contest where those who attended the event vote for their favorite competitor.

Judges for the event were:

--Carol Hermann, vice president for marketing, administration and communication at Kish Bank and CEO of subsidiary Kish Travel. Before joining Kish Bank, Hermann had a distinguished career as a senior administrator at Penn State University, where she retired as senior vice president for administration emerita. She earned a bachelor's degree at Bucknell University and went on to earn a master's degree in journalism from Penn State.

--Jennifer Lewis, associate director of international programs at Earlham College, in Richmond, Ind. She has worked at Earlham since 2002. In addition to her administrative duties, Lewis teaches public speaking courses at Earlham College and Indiana University. She is a 1997 Juniata graduate, and went on to earn a master's degree in communications studies/rhetoric from the University of Montana.

--Chris Scalia, vice president of talent for The Hershey Co. in Hershey, Pa.. Scalia, a 1998 Juniata graduate, is responsible for all aspects of Hershey's global talent strategy, including talent management, organizational learning, executive development and enterprise capabilities. He started at Hershey in 2005 as labor counsel, becoming director and lead counsel for global labor and employment from 2007 to 2011. He also was the 1998 winner of the Bailey Oratorical Contest and earned a law degree in 2001 from Penn State's Dickinson School of Law.

The original Bailey Oratorical Award was established in 1910 by Letitia Fisher Bailey and the Honorable Thomas F. Bailey, who served as president judge of Huntingdon County from 1916 to 1936. The contest is named in honor of John M. Bailey, the father of Thomas Bailey, and a former Huntingdon County president judge.

The oratorical contest has a long tradition at Juniata College, as students from all areas of study can compete for the monetary prize. The original prize for the contest was $15 and $25. An enhanced endowment contribution by Judge Bailey's son-in-law Colonel Sedgley Thornbury, provides the contest's prize money. In addition, the name of the winner will be permanently inscribed on an antique loving cup presented to the college by Colonel Thornbury's son, Thomas Bailey Thornbury.

Contact Gabe Welsch at welschg@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.