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University of North Georgia junior and senior capture top prizes in oratorical contests

UNG senior Carl Stokes took the top prize in the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest on the Gainesville Campus.

Last year, University of North Georgia (UNG) junior Katherine Wright saw signs for the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest and wanted to compete, but the timing was bad for her.


University of North Georgia junior Katherine Wright won the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest on the Dahlonega Campus.

Wright, however, did not let the contest pass her by this year. Her timing was impeccable. She won the contest on UNG's Dahlonega Campus with her topic on racism in America.

"I wanted to speak about something that is a touchy subject," said Wright, a 19-year-old history major from Fayetteville, Georgia. "It's a difficult subject to talk about with this political climate."

Her speech evaluated the history of racism in the United States and the country's ability to grow from it.

"We have to accept and remedy the past and not let our hubris stand in the way of our projection," she said.

While Wright celebrated her win Jan. 25 in Dahlonega, UNG senior Carl Stokes took the top prize a day earlier on the Gainesville Campus. However, the 34-year-old psychology major from Norcross, Georgia, needed a little convincing before agreeing to participate.

"I came into the Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) office to speak to Dr. Robert Robinson, when (MSA staff associate) Tuwanda Wilson called me into her office and said I had to compete," Stokes said. "Tuwanda tries to get people to live up to their potential."

Stokes did, winning with his speech about economic inequality. Stokes explained he incorporated pieces of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize and statistics published by the Huffington Post to illustrate his point.

"Dr. King said in 1964 we had the means to eradicate poverty," Stokes said. "Now, we have the technology, the know-how and ability … to eradicate poverty. We can make food and clean potable water available, not just to a few but for us all."

His facts and what he described as his "impassioned" speech won him first place. But Stokes was quick to note his fellow competitors spoke with passion, too.

Tara Overzat, assistant director of MSA, said all the contestants were well prepared in their diverse speeches of varying views. The MSA sponsored the contest on both campuses.

"I thought it went well overall," she said. "My hope is we can get more students to participate next year."

Castiel Dixon, who placed third, wanted to ensure the judges could feel his compassion on transgender deaths in the country, but not see it.

"During my interview (for the contest), I cried," said Dixon, who identifies as a transgender. "So I practiced a lot to make sure that it didn't happen during the speech."

After it was over, he was proud of his performance.

"It was my first time and I got third," Dixon said. "So next year, maybe I can get second."

Dixon was not the only first-time competitor. Marcus Etienne, a senior majoring in media studies, was coaxed by Wilson to enter the competition. He was glad he did.

"If I wasn't graduating, I would do it again," Etienne said, explaining he would encourage others to compete. "It is a great experience. And even though I didn't get first place, I still got prize money for my fourth-place finish."

Nick Mitchell, a senior computer science major from Cleveland, improved his finish from last year. He placed fourth previously, then placed third this year. That's not important to the self-described activist.

"I like the learning experience," the 25-year-old said. "Anytime I can talk publicly about something I am passionate about helps me."


Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest winners

Dahlonega Campus:

First: Katherine Wright

Second: Michelle Vatral

Third: Nick Mitchell

Fourth: William Scaggs

Fifth: Natalie Mitchell


Gainesville Campus:

First: Carl Stokes

Second: Edrea Douglas

Third: Castiel Dixon

Fourth: Marcus Etienne

Fifth: Gabriela Pacheco

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