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University of Delaware senior Julia Mack has very clear memories of
voting in the 2008 presidential election while surrounded by a loud
chorus of arguments between supporters of John McCain and those of
Of course, Mack was only 10 years old at the time, and the election
was an educational exercise in her fifth-grade classroom. When McCain
won the mock contest (and Obama, later, won the real one), Mack was
impressed by her first tangible exposure to democracy.
“It made me feel like voting was the answer to having my opinion
heard,” she said recently, explaining that the lesson has stuck with
her. “Even today, I continue to vote for what I think is right.”
Mack, who is majoring in media communication with minors in
advertising and journalism, made good use of that grade-school
experience, recalling it in an audio essay she wrote and recorded for
the “Speak Up” competition organized by UD’s Center for Political Communication
(CPC). Her essay won second-place honors in the contest, which is held
every fall as part of the CPC’s National Agenda series that brings
prominent speakers to campus to explore some of the most important
issues in American politics and society. The 2019 contest winners were
announced last month.
The contest, which this year asked students to reflect on the meaning
of democracy and its implications for their own roles as citizens, is
designed to provide practical experience in writing essays that are
strong and concise — there’s a strict time limit of two to four minutes —
and in public speaking, audio recording and editing.
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A crowd fills Mitchell Hall on Nov. 7 to hear former New Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie, a UD alumnus, speak as part of the most recent
National Agenda series. The theme for 2019, “Direction Democracy,”
was reflected in the Speak Up contest topics.
For Rachel Sawicki, whose essay “Democracy for Minorities” was the
first-place winner, recording and editing audio stories was nothing new.
The junior communication and English
major has been a sports reporter for campus radio station WVUD and held
an internship and part-time position with Delaware Public Media.
Still, she said, “Being in the class COMM329, Broadcast News Writing,
was helpful throughout the process” of creating her essay. She credited
the instructor, Nancy Karibjanian, who is a veteran broadcast
journalist and director of the CPC, with encouraging students to enter
the contest and further develop the skills they were learning in the
Sawicki’s essay traced her own journey from taking democratic values
for granted in the United States to learning about how minority groups
are treated in authoritarian countries. The realization, she said, made
her aware of the importance of defending those values in America as
Other students whose essays were recognized by the Speak Up judges also called the contest a valuable learning experience.
“I was a little concerned about delivery and structure” as she began
the project, said Chloe Tullman, whose essay questioning whether mass
media technology is hurting our democracy won an honorable mention.
“Luckily, with giving myself plenty of time to revise, I was able to
incorporate most of the elements that we learned to make a good audio
essay. My classes with Professor Karibjanian absolutely helped me
prepare for this, both from a writing/content standpoint, and a
Both Tullman and Marin Imhoff, who also received an honorable
mention, said the contest also helped them realize the importance of
stepping outside their comfort zone to try something new. Overcoming a
bit of stage fright as she started recording, Imhoff said she just
focused on conveying her personal feelings about her role as a citizen
on Election Day.
“I was already a journalism minor prior to entering this contest, and
this experience only solidified my dream to work in journalism,” she
Winners of the Speak Up contest, and their essay titles, were: First
place, Rachel Sawicki, “Democracy for Minorities”; second place, Julia
Mack, “2008”; third place, Tara Lennon, honors student, “Dinner Plate
Democracy”; and honorable mentions, Marin Imhoff, “If I Could”; Emma
Scholes, “Ripple Effect”; and Chloe Tullman, “Online Shopping Turns
Commendations were awarded to finalists Kristine Castoria, “Masked
Oligarchy,” Madeline Ehrlich, honors, “Democracy Matters,” Holly Hutton,
“Surfing Perspective,” and Chloe La Motta, “Divided US.”
To listen to any of the selected essays, visit this website.
The Speak Up program is supported by the University Writing Center; UD Library, Museums and Press; Delaware Public Media; College of Arts and Sciences journalism program; Department of Communication; WVUD Radio; and the University Provost.
The nonpartisan, interdisciplinary Center for Political Communication
at UD, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, uses
academic research to foster student learning and broad community
Its numerous initiatives include the annual National Agenda series,
which brings prominent speakers to campus and offers students the
opportunity to interact with them; televised Delaware Debates with
statewide candidates during election years; and various projects in
which students are encouraged to explore the value of civic engagement.
The center sponsors polls and affiliated faculty research projects,
which are recognized nationally in academic journals and media
On April 20, the CPC launched “Voices of UD: Connecting the UD
Community,” which invites everyone in the University community to submit
brief audio or visual recordings reflecting on some of the ways in
which the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting them. Details are
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Center for Political Communication staff; photo by Kevin Quinlan
Published April 30, 2020