Ronit Goswami, a student at Goshen (Indiana) College, was named the winner of the 2020 intercollegiate C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest administered by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.
Goswami, an exercise science major and sports management minor, delivered his speech, “Finding Peace in the Trenches: The War on Homelessness,” on Feb. 18 about homelessness around the world as well as locally in the town of Goshen. Goswami spoke from his experience growing up in Bangladesh but challenged listeners to recognize the gravity of homelessness in the U.S. as well.
“At times, we are drawn to this issue in developing countries but refuse to recognize that it’s directly under our noses,” he said.
Watch Ronit Goswami's speech: "Finding Peace in the Trenches: The War on Homelessness"
Goswami referenced a simulation exercise his youth group did in high school where he said he learned the important lesson of prioritizing the needs of the homeless rather than one’s own agenda. He challenged the audience to reassess the issue. “Are we really fighting a war on homelessness or are we fighting a war against the homeless?” he asked.
In a call to action, Goswami named three important steps of working against homelessness: educating on the issue, respecting the homeless and advocating for the homeless. He ended by giving specific examples of ways the audience could engage locally in the Goshen community to support the homeless. “We may not resolve this issue immediately, but choosing compassion toward others over ignorance could be the first step to figuring out the solution.”
Goswami, who was a sophomore when he gave the speech, is from Goshen, where his home congregation is Assembly Mennonite Church. He received a cash prize of $300 for being the first-place winner of the contest, as well as a $500 scholarship to attend a peace-related conference or seminar of his choice.
Catherine Bergs and Jubilee Dueck Thiessen win second and third places in the peace speech contest.
Catherine Bergs of Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, won second place with her speech, “Passivity Was Never a Virtue.” Bergs won $225 in cash and a $200 scholarship to attend a peace conference. She is from Waterloo, where her home congregation is Nexus Church.
Third-place contest winner was Jubilee Dueck Thiessen from Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her speech, “Stewards of Joy: Answering the Call of Ecological Shalom.” Dueck Thiessen is from Winnipeg, where her home church is River East Church. She received $150 in cash and a $200 scholarship to attend a peace conference.
The annual binational contest is open to all students of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in the U.S. and Canada. To be eligible for consideration, speeches must apply the Christian peace position to contemporary concerns.
Judges for the 2020 contest were Johonna Turner, assistant professor of Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia; Randy Klassen, Indigenous Neighbours coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan; and George Pickens, professor of Theology and Mission at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. The judges evaluated speeches from five participating colleges: Bluffton University in Ohio, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University, Goshen College and Tabor College in Kansas.
Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust started the contest in 1974 in honor of the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor who worked at Goshen College and Bluffton University. The yearly competition commemorates Smith’s deep interest in the Mennonite commitment to peace by promoting continuing thought and discussion around peace issues.