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Great Orations of the Past Are Focus of Communications Course

(Posted September 17, 2007)

Grace Fala, Professor of Communication

HUNTINGDON, Pa, -- Jerry Seinfeld famously observed that for many people the fear of public speaking far outweighs the fear of dying. At Juniata College, Grace Fala, professor of communication, is using the words of people who have passed on to help her students deliver a compelling speech. Fala, whose area of expertise is public speaking and rhetoric, is reviving Great Orations, a course she last taught in the early 1990s that gives students the opportunity to study and deliver historic speeches. Each student is expected to re-create a speech from such celebrated orators as Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King Jr., Ida B. Wells, Ronald Reagan, Sojourner Truth and many others. \"This course teaches students that they can be agents of change of they need to be,\" says Fala, who also sponsors Juniata\'s annual Soapbox Speeches, which are scheduled for 4 p.m., Oct. 31 in front of Rosenberger Auditorium. \"The students learn how a single speech can make a difference. I\'d like them to be active participants in society rather than passive recipients because they need to be part of the world (around them).\" Juniata students learn to become citizens of the world in this course by studying the words of a world long past. Fala opens the course by asking the class to analyze the Declaration of Independence, followed by an analysis of the Declaration of Sentiments, an 1848 document written primarily by women\'s suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton signed by the delegates to the first women\'s rights convention in Seneca Falls N.Y. The class studies one major speech from the past every week, including Douglass\' \"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?\" Stanton\'s \"The Solitude of Self,\" King\'s \"I Have a Dream\" speech and Reagan\'s speech commemorating the crew of the space shuttle Challenger. \"Then we will take our show on the road and perform at least one or two of these remarkable speeches in a local school,\" Fala says. \"What the Juniata students learn and what our local high school students will be able to see is how much influence great speeches had on all of our lives. (Unfortunately) we don\'t look for speakers to inform us these days, we have the Internet for that. \"I think there is a real need to be filled and speech or oration can fill that need,\" she continues. \"Whether you have a broken heart or a sleeping heart, people still have the power to be eloquent and use language to move people.\" Fala will ask the students presenting at local high schools to dress in period costumes reflective of the speaker they have chosen. Fala explains that often working with the words and speeches of other people can give students a \"comfort zone\" for public speaking that they might not have if they were writing their own speeches. \"If I have training as a speaker, that skill will carry over into other areas and help me become a leader,\" she says. \"The more we have students speak in front of an audience the more likely it is that our students will become citizens of the world.\"

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.