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Don't Spoil R/O Speaking Opportunity

On the afternoon of Friday, Aug 25th, the Class of 1999 will assemble in Killian Court for their class picture and the beginning of rush. But unlike past years when professional speakers addressed the students, the freshmen next year will hear from an upperclass student, chosen by a committee of students and staff from the Residence and Orientation Week Executive Committee. This is an excellent innovation, and we applaud the decision of the Residence and Campus Activities and Undergraduate Academic Affairs offices to replace the outside speaker with a student. We hope that many students will apply for the chance to "motivate and inspire" the incoming freshmen.

Will Keim, who has spoken for the last several years, has always exercised his duty enthusiastically, and has been well-liked by freshmen. He speaks with an immense amount of energy, and with intensity of a religious preacher. But the content of his speeches is often neither entirely relevant nor appropriate for MIT, particularly since our unique rush process includes more options for freshman than any comparable university. And Keim often reverts to "bathroom" humor that would make a typical MIT faculty member cringe. On the other hand, a speech given by an MIT student will afford the singular opportunity to give the members of the incoming class a perspective on the importance of residence as part of the MIT experience.

The selection committee has a difficult task in finding an MIT student who can successfully motivate the class. First and foremost, the student must be a phenomenal speaker, an MIT student with an extraordinary talent for public speaking. Wording can be improved, delivery can be practiced, but the essential capacity to reach out and grab the audience requires years in the nurturing.

Some unofficial publicity for the contest suggests that a "speaker who tactfully lets it be known that part of his/her good experience at MIT is from being in an FSILG could do wonders [for] rush." This attitude is inappropriate; any constraint on the choice of speaker is unacceptable. The competition should be open and fair to all interested students, regardless of their current residence or FSILG affiliation.

More importantly for the freshman, the goal of the speech is not to encourage people to rush fraternities and sororities - R/O is not about living groups competing for freshman. Rather, the speech should motivate them to explore all their options, and make the best choices for themselves among the many diverse lifestyles offered by MIT, including fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, as well as dormitories. The Killian keynote speech should not be tainted by tacit favoritism of one residence style over another.

Public speaking is an important skill at which most MIT students hardly excel. The sort of competitive opportunity offered by the Killian Kick Off speech is a valuable way to encourage more students to take an interest in public speaking. Anyone with an interest in speaking should take the opportunity to apply - it's a rare privilege. We look forward to hearing a great speech in August.