Spencer Prize

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
Spencer Prize video by Zack Einhorn '21

Qualifying Rounds

Faculty- and Staff-nominated students deliver 3-minute 

presentations. Faculty/Staff judges will choose a Finalist and two Runners-Up from each of 5 qualifying events.

Grand Championship

Feb 9, 2021   |  8:00pm |  Zoom

The finalists will deliver 6-minute speeches to a general audience. Three faculty judges will choose a Grand Champion and two Runners-Up. 

First-year scholars

step to the mic


Finalist: $100

Runner-up: $50

People's Choice: $50

Spencer Prize Grand Champion: $500

All participants: water bottle and sticker


“Connect something you’ve discovered at Middlebury to something you care about. Can you get your audience to care too?”

Judging Critera

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.

Nominate a Speaker

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


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

The 2020 Finalists

The 2021 Spencer Prize Team


Exec Producers:



Graphic Design:


Promotion Team:




Judge Liaisons:

Contestant Liaisons: 


Ben Powers, Oratory Now Associate


Kamari Williams '23 and Koach Kochar '23


Ellie Thompson '22, Christian Kummer '22, 

Sean Rhee '21

 Sam Martin '19


Kayla Lichtman '21, Spencer Royston '21,

Melanie Leider '23.5, Celeste Levy '22, Vera Rousseff '23, Tanzim Ahmed '22, Manuel Morillo '23

"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

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

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.”