In less than two minutes, freshman Nathaniel Turtel had prepared a five-minute speech spanning centuries of history based on a single quote on a yellow strip of paper.
Turtel, a member of Hillsdale College’s speech team, was a finalist in two events at the Fall Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League Tournament that Hillsdale held Saturday in Lane Hall. Eastern Michigan University took first place in the team sweepstakes.
Turtel took third place in extemporaneous and fourth in impromptu on Saturday. He was the only member to compete because the event was being held at Hillsdale, sophomore Peter Seeley said.
Turtel’s preliminary round speech on historical figures was based on a John D. Rockefeller quote: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
Taking a position against Rockefeller, he prepared and delivered a speech in seven minutes, using Napoleon Bonaparte, Benedict Arnold, and Alexander the Great as cautionary tales.
“Not settling for less can destroy what you have,” Turtel argued.
He said he took this position, because he didn’t think anyone else would. The other five students in his “flight,” or round, advocated for pursuing the great, as Rockefeller proposed. Turtel competed with students from colleges in Michigan, northern Indiana, and Ohio.
Each competitor followed similar tactics: beginning with an anecdote, then supporting the prompt with historical examples, before returning to the quote. Pacing the room while maintaining eye contact with individual audience members, the students sought to argue their claim before judges in a compelling and concise manner.
Meghan Cwiok, a senior from Eastern Michigan University, also competed in Turtel’s flight. She said developing talking points for impromptu speeches takes practice.
“You do one of these a day to try to get used to having to think on your fee that much,” she said. “The thought process is, ‘How can you teach somebody a life lesson?’”
Cwiok said she appreciated the change of pace the local competition offered. Speech teams like Hillsdale’s and EMU’s travel far around the country seeking competition, but this event allowed students to take on their neighbors.
“I’ve been able to talk to a lot of really cool people,” Cwiok said. “It’s great to be able to hang out with all the Michigan people, because we normally travel to other states.’
Andrew Heim, a graduate student in his second year at Hillsdale’s VanAndel Graduate School of Statesmanship, helped judge tournament, rating Cwiok’s and Turtel’s impromptu round. Volunteering after an email request was sent to graduate students, Heim said his experience in high school speech and college Shakespeare performances gave him skills that “translate well” for playing the role.
Although Turtel took an unpopular position in his speech, his warning against the danger of ambition allowed him to reap its benefits in the finals.
“That’s what history is,” Turtel said. “Just a collection of horror stories.”