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Elspeth Campbell '22 Wins LeBow Oratorical Competition
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One of the most eagerly awaited assemblies of the year is the annual Dr. Robert H. LeBow '58 Memorial Oratorical Competition in February, when six Upper School students—sophomores and juniors—speak for four-and-a-half to six-and-a-half minutes on a topic of their choosing. This year, the audience listened to speeches by Sophia Lewis '22, Izzy Billups '22, Elspeth Campbell '22, Caleb Park '23, Martine Bigos '22, and Milenka Men '23.

Upper School Latin Teacher Judy Lebowitz organized this year's competition, which 26 students entered. The faculty and student judges named Elspeth the winner ("We, the Politicians") and Martine the runner-up ("All That's Left").

The competition was funded in 2005 through the generosity of the Class of 1958, led by the late William Hetfield, in memory of their classmate. Dr. LeBow was an accomplished public speaker, addressing audiences worldwide about the need for health care reform. While working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. LeBow and his wife Gail lived in numerous developing countries and provided medical services to underserved populations. Dr. LeBow is the author of Health Care Meltdown: Confronting the Myths and Fixing Our Failing System, a book drawn from his public speaking engagements.

Dr. LeBow's classmate Dr. James G. Smith '58, who normally attends the competition, supplied a message about Dr. LeBow that was read on his behalf by Assistant Head of School Dr. Delvin Dinkins: "He was very smart, a hard worker, a talented writer, and a miler on the track team. But what was most compelling to me about Bob was that, with all of his talents, he was utterly unpretentious, completely genuine . . . He received the best possible education, starting with Pingry, but he then used that education in the best possible way: he gave back to those most in need. Let his influence be felt by all of us in this time of such great need."

The Speeches

Sophia Lewis ("Self-Care Isn't Caring for Me Anymore") said that self-care, idolized by society, doesn't work for her because it doesn't account for a variety for emotions. "Self-care is many things," she said, like studying for a test or deciding to do something she is scared of.  Instead of focusing on the self, she advocated for spending time with others, creating a "genuine human connection."

Izzy Billups ("The Velocity of Fear"), inspired by the fact that "Hannah Montana was fearless," claimed that fear is inevitable and that "society is based on fear—fear of not having enough money, fear of not getting a promotion, fear of homelessness, fear of poverty, fear of not fitting in, fear of rejection, fear of getting sick, fear of getting old, and ultimately, fear of death." People should choose to be "the light in the lives of others" and make decisions based on what they want. Don't wonder, "What could have happened if . . .?"

Elspeth Campbell ("We, the Politicians") opened her speech by asking, "What defines a politician?" Pointing out that politics is "ostensibly restricted to a professional elite, yet ubiquitous in practice," she argued that "any person who has ever persuaded another to their agenda is, by definition, a politician"—including activists, journalists, authors, filmmakers, and even the participants in the LeBow competition. "If we fail to recognize the influence of non-professional politicians, we are completely unable to check their power." Everyone possesses the capability and responsibility to use their rhetoric for the common good—voices still make an impact.

Caleb Park ("My Dark, Beautiful, Twisted Isolation") opened by reflecting on a week spent in isolation with his extended family in an apartment in Korea—an isolation that allowed him to recognize himself as an American for the first time. Now, in the midst of COVID-19, Caleb appreciates that self-isolation has given people time to do things they didn't have time for. Examples: Beethoven writing his Ninth Symphony; Kanye West creating his album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"; and Shakespeare writing Macbeth in the middle of the Black Plague. "In moderation, isolation can be used to do great things," Caleb said. "Use it wisely and you can create our own masterpiece."

Martine Bigos ("All That's Left") observed that, with all of the expectations placed on them, students are expected to differentiate themselves in the college process. "We know what sells and what doesn't, so we seek merit . . . there is no shame in seeking success or being competitive, but there is great dishonor in gaming a system through artificiality." Colleges may like something, but is there any authenticity in the students' actions? "Every time we take a piece of ourselves and distort it . . . we lose our sense of self."

Milenka Men ("We've Kept the Mountains and Lost the Grass") found that she wasn't missing people very much during the pandemic because she's an introvert. Quarantine gave her a strange sense of comfort because "the stifling human energy went away. The world is built for extroverts . . . we live in a society that rewards extroverted traits." Milenka believes society judges introverts for being anti-social, but "Introverts are still human, and humans are social creatures of all different flavors." She may not miss the crowded school hallways, but she misses head nods and people waving hello—the full landscape with grass, trees, and butterflies.



Pictured: Elspeth Campbell '22 (top); Robert H. LeBow '58 (bottom)

Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer, Editor of The Pingry Review