The 3rd Annual

Spencer Prize in Oratory


First-Year Students

Spencer Prize 2020 Finalists (from left to right): Citlali Aguilera-Rico, Aubrianna Wilson,

Grand Champion Constance Gooding, Arthur Martins, Rain Ji, and Devon Hunt.

photo by Todd Balfour

first-year scholars

step to the mic


Grand Championship:             $500

Commons Championships:      $100

Grand Championship

The Six Finalists deliver 6-minute presentations

with a 1-min. "Lightning Q&A"

Topic: Connect something you learned in a Middlebury class to something you care about. Get an audience of faculty and staff, fellow students, and townspeople to care too!



Tues,  Feb 18,  2020     7:30pm


Mahaney Center, Robison Concert Hall

Special guests, the Mamajamas!

The 2020 Finalists:

Judging Criteria

  • Compelling Connection:  Speaker captured the imagination by connecting something learned in class to something they care about.

  • Persuasive Argument: Speaker used an efficient progression of thoughts to develop the central concept and establish its significance.

  • Engaging Delivery: Speaker maintained a strong connection to the audience using body and voice to clarify and amplify their intent.

Commons Championships

Faculty-nominated students delivered 3-min. presentations

Topic: Connect something you learned in a Middlebury class to something you care about. Can you get your Commons to care too?

Nominate a Speaker

To compete in the Commons Championships, first-year students (including Sophomore Febs) must be nominated by a Middlebury College faculty member.


Faculty are asked to recognize students for public speaking potential as well as current ability, or for their eloquence and engagement in classroom discussions.

The nomination period for Spencer '20 is now closed. Thank you for supporting the class of '23/'22.5! 

Spencer Prize 2020 video by Zack Einhorn '21

"Writing, rehearsing and ultimately presenting my speech were worthwhile experiences I would definitely do again. The audiences at the presentations were supportive and attentive to the point that it almost felt like a big group of friends getting together to swap stories about life. I consider the platform the Spencer Prize has given me a prize in and of itself."    

  -Treasure Brooks, 2018 Spencer Prize Grand Champion

Read the 2018 Spencer Prize Grand Championship Middlebury Newsroom story

Congratulations to Roni Lezama, 2019 Spencer Prize Grand Champion! 

       Middlebury Newsroom story here

The Spencer Prize in Oratory honors the memory of African Studies Emeritus Professor of History and former trustee, John Spencer.









John Spencer devoted more than 35 years of service to Middlebury College.


After earning a bachelor’s degree from Princeton in 1953, John served for two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He then worked at the National Sugar Refining Company, with the Institute of Current World Affairs in East Africa, at the Ford Foundation for Eastern, Northern, and Southern Africa, and as a Peace Corps evaluator for Gambia, Mauritania, and Senegal. His work with the Peace Corps eventually led him to earn his MA and PhD from Columbia University.


“Many current faculty will remember him as a mentor, offering sage advice about how to survive and be exceptional at Middlebury,” said Ted Perry, Fletcher Professor of the Arts Emeritus. "Many students will remember his extraordinarily helpful role in emphasizing oral presentations, a practice he made central to success in his classes. He knew it was a skill they would need in whatever life’s work they chose.”


Former Middlebury President John McCardell Jr. reflected on his many years working with John Spencer: “John was a model administrator, a masterful teacher, a true student and mentor in the field of public speaking (keep your jacket buttoned, never say ‘uh,’ don’t breathe through your mouth). He truly made the field of African History at Middlebury -- students flocked to his courses.”

The 2020 Spencer Prize Team

 Director: Ben Powers, Oratory Now Associate


Exec Producers: Ellie Thompson '22 and Christian Kummer '22


Advisors: Steph Miller '20 & Sean Rhee '21

Graphic Design: Ben Allan Rahill '22    @bjar.jpg                                                                                   

Promotion Team: Mary Moore '22.5, Lucy Townend '22, Yasmine Signey '22, Sabrina Templeton '22, Alex Demoly '22, Justin Celebi '22, Kamari Williams '23, Zach Einhorn '21, Sophie Charron '22, Shirley Mao '22


Emcees: Roni Lezama '22, GiGi Hogan '22, Celeste Levy '22, Maya Fray-Witzer '22


Judge Liaisons: Ciara Carlson-Healy '22, Vera Rousseff '23

Contestant Liaisons: Kate Hilscher '20.5, Tanzim Ahmed '22


DJs: Nuasheen Chowdhury '22, Mariana Tahiri '22