Oration 2020 -The Legendary Speech Competition for People Willing to Push the Envelope
For about five years, the Gavel Club of the University of Colombo has conducted weekly meetings where people are encouraged to stand up in front of a crowd and speak for one minute, where undergraduates from all the faculties make lifelong friends from different faculties and where members gather to celebrate everyone’s success. Within a span of a few months, new members who start off barely able to string a sentence together in front of an audience become seasoned speakers who can monologue about the most random topic for about five minutes on end. Oration 2020 is a culmination of individual excellence, mixed together with senior experience and fresh-faced optimism – in other words, a glimpse into what the Gavel Club has accomplished.
On the 25th of July, from 2 pm to 5 pm, the grand finale of Oration 2020 took place via Zoom. The Finale showcased the talents of 6 finalists, representing the diversity of opportunity that Oration 2020 accommodates: the finalists represented the Faculties of Science, Law, Arts, and the UCSC. Dasuni Mataraarachchi and Hirudinie Wickramanayake represented the Faculty of Law, Ishani Senadhipathi represented the Faculty of Arts, Maayura Sukumaran represented the UCSC, Ramalka Kasige and Ganeshiny Sridharan represented the Faculty of Science. Each finalist delivered excellent, well-crafted, and powerful speeches, each of them capturing our attention for more than five minutes at a time. Judges marked their ballots and logged in their votes and were taken to a breakout room for finalised decisions, while Oration audience was treated to items of entertainment and sessions of inspiration from our guest speakers. Our keynote speaker for the event, Mrs. Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Sri Lanka’s first female group CEO, of Hemas Holdings PLC, joined us for half an hour and spoke to us about her journey in life. With each story, she taught us about strength, perseverance, and dedication in the face of adversity, and showed us how to navigate life. Her frank and the honest talk was refreshing to us all. We were honoured and privileged to have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo, Senior Professor Chandrika N Wijeyaratne with us as our Chief Guest, and were delighted when she took the screen to address us. Our Guest of Honour, Distinguished Toastmaster Sarmaa Mahalingam also spoke to us about the value of public speaking and how it is important to develop the skills associated with it at a young age. We are forever thankful to all of our special guests for taking the time to be there virtually and are proud to have been able to bring an impressive and inspiring line-up of speakers to the virtual room. It’s already been a day and we are still talking about it.
After this, our hosts led us into the announcement of winners. While Maayura Sukumaran from UCSC was placed 3rd, Hirudinie Wickramanayake from the Faculty of Law was placed 2ndand Ramalka Kasige from the Faculty of Science was named champion of Oration 2020. All members of the UoC Gavel Club were no doubt on their feet celebrating this win, because Ramalka is a veteran of the club by all standards. In her acceptance speech, with tears of joy shining in her eyes, Ramalka remarked that she never thought that she, a science student from the Zoology Department, would win a speech competition. Her win was well deserved and is a testament to the level of improvement that the Gavel Club can give to a member. Ramalka, who has been a part of the Gavel Club since 2016, was supported by her fellow members, mentored by senior members, and helped by her juniors to reach the top, and the Gavel Club of UoC is especially proud of our very own speaker for bagging the trophy.
Ramalka had this to say: “You always need to be with people who bring out the best in you and I was lucky enough to find them in the Gavel Club of University of Colombo. They were the ones who never judged me for any reason which indeed strengthen my journey as a speaker day by day. I filled my life with countless adventures and discovered my hidden talents with the guidance, support, and mentorship of them. I am incredibly thankful for every moment I spend with this gavel family! Three cheers to Gavel UOC! “
Oration 2020 was meant to be held in a physically grand scale, until the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to come to terms with the fact that it would not be possible. However, seeing as our club’s motto is “Gavel Never Stops”, we decided to adapt and resort to online resources to carry out the competition. What followed was months of late-night conference calls, changing marketing strategies, coming up with new rules to accommodate specific changes, calling people to confirm and oftentimes encourage participation, large scale and small scale disagreements that we always managed to work around, and at the end, a team of determined, dedicated and quite tired Gaveliers got the show on the road. The entire competition was online. The organising committee, contestants, judges, and club members did not physically meet at all in preparation for this competition, but the preliminary, semi-final, and final rounds went off without a hitch. Each round was held via the Zoom online platform. The preliminary round saw around 60 contestants delivering their speeches to three panels of judges at parallel meetings, and the semi-final round saw 20 contestants performing at their very best level.
Oration was started as a means to discover the oratory talents that lie within the walls of the University of Colombo, with the objectives of promoting oratory excellence and providing a platform for the type of talent that usually goes unnoticed. Any undergraduate was able to apply, no matter the faculty nor their Gavel club membership status. This led to the discovery of so many talented people within university, many of whom joined the Gavel club after their preliminary speeches, and most of whom were actively given help and mentorship from the club. Contestants were given the option of requesting a senior Gavelier as a mentor, and each request was fulfilled. The mentors worked with their assigned mentees for the competition, and contestants also got a chance to showcase their speech to a senior Gavelier and get live feedback. Once the semi-final round concluded, our club mentor TM Arshad Nizam stepped in and had one-on-one mentorship sessions with each finalist, guiding them to make their speeches greater and better. Every contestant, all in all, received much experience and came out of this competition with great advice and wonderful memories to take home.
Oration was everything we had hoped it would be and more, and the enthusiasm from our contestants, members, and prospective members is indicative of many more years of Gavel greatness to come.