By: David Rubinstein  | 

Students Debate at Annual Oratory Competition; Pre-Law Activities Abound on Campus

Twenty students competed in the annual Langfan Oratory Competition on April 19th, 2015. The competition promotes public speaking skills and awareness of constitutional issues and has been running at YU for half a decade.

Six undergraduates were awarded prizes in recognition of their oratory excellence. In the men’s division, which competed in the morning and early afternoon, Uri Segelman placed first, Nathanel Kukurudz second, and Avi Strauss placed third. Michal Segall won first place in the afternoon women’s competition, with Rachel Rolnick placing second and Miriam Pearl Klahr taking third place. Each winner received a cash award.

The oratory competition is only one of an assortment of recent events centered on pre-law topics. On April 21, a panel of first-year law students spoke about their experience applying to law schools and offered advice for YU students considering a legal education or career. A week later, the Office of Pre-Law Advisement and the Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society hosted the annual law career fair, which was attended by upwards of fifty students. Several lawyers from diverse areas of legal practice, including litigation, in-house counsel, and venture technology law, met students and shared their experience in the profession.

This year’s debates focused on when the First Amendment protects true threats, the constitutional question that arose recently in the Supreme Court case Elonis v. United States. Competitors argued for or against a resolution that true threats are not protected by the First Amendment when the speaker knows or should have known that the target of the speech will feel threatened.

Pre-Law Academic Advisor Ms. Dina Chelst, the event organizer and an attorney, said she chose the topic because the Langfan Competition focuses on Constitutional issues and the subject of true threats is pertinent. “Discussions about Facebook and social media are relatable,” Ms. Chelst said, “and this question is of particular interest because the Supreme Court hasn’t yet answered it.”

Ms. Chelst judged the men’s and women’s competitions together with Mr. William Langfan, the competition’s namesake. A third judge joined for each of the divisions: Attorney Michael Wildes joined the bench for the men’s debate and Attorney Joel Strauss for the women’s face-off.

Mr. Langfan, 93, has been sponsoring the competition to “extend the opportunities” that he had in college “to practice public speaking,” he said. Mr. Langfan’s relationship with YU started when he would come as a youth to pray together with his father. He has remained close to the university ever since.

Contestants spanned a range of majors and professional aspirations. There were students of philosophy and political science as well as biology and economics majors. Some introduced themselves as future lawyers; many orations came from pre-med students.

“It’s important for YU students from all majors to hone their oratory skills,” Ms. Chelst, who organized the event, remarked. “Jewish speakers can often find themselves in a political minority and a competition like Langfan is an opportunity to perfect the formulation and expression of arguments,” she reflected.

Miriam Pearl Klahr, a sophomore double-majoring in physical sciences and Jewish studies, whose speech analyzing the founding fathers’ intentions for the First Amendment placed her among the competition’s winners, said that she competed to “expand her horizons” of academic activity. Women’s first place winner Michal Segall, a sophomore studying biology, was similarly excited to participate in an extracurricular event that was not “science-related,” an opportunity she does not have as frequently because of her area of study.

Men’s first place winner Uri Segelman, a senior majoring in political science who is co-president of the College Republicans, is a veteran of oratory competitions. “I have been debating since high school,” said Segelman, who placed second in last year’s Langfan Competition. He is particularly fond of this contest because he “love[s] constitutional law,” he explained.

Avi Strauss, a sophomore double majoring in Political Science and Biology, whose Langfan oration won him third place, was grateful for the opportunity to engage his peers in intellectual competition. “I felt like all the students present could have seemed like every speaker just brought a more nuanced, more comprehensive way of looking at the topic.” But more importantly, he was thankful for the opportunity: “It’s not often we students are offered a forum to speak and debate, especially on constitutional issues and I think I can speak for all the participants when I say that we savor the opportunity.” When asked if he would be participating next year, Strauss immediately responded, “Who wouldn’t?”