Lions, Muppets and Milosevic: Seniors find winning voices

Dan Murtaugh

Kermit the Frog helped Weinberg senior Greg Lipper win the National Forensics Association’s title for extemporaneous speaking.

Lipper — who is known in the competition circuit for his knack for opening speeches with metaphorical references to children’s shows — opened his speech about Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s blackout of the Serbian media with a tidbit from Sesame Street.

“When Kermit the Frog broadcast the news on the Muppet Show, he would always have to stay away from Miss Piggy,” Lipper began his speech. “If he were in Serbia right now, I would suggest to him that he stay away from Slobodan Milosevic.”

Lipper’s teammate Nathan Mather won the national championship for impromptu speaking using a reference to Disney’s “The Lion King.”

The National Individual Event Tournament is the largest collegiate speech tournament in the nation, and was held on the Ohio University campus from April 13 through the 17.

Lipper placed first out of 150 students in the extemporaneous speaking category, and Mather, also a Weinberg senior, placed first out of 220 students in the impromptu speaking category.

Extemporaneous speaking contestants were given a topic, and then had 30 minutes to prepare for a seven-minute speech. In the impromptu category, the contestants had a total of seven minutes to prepare and deliver a speech that interpreted a quote chosen by a panel of judges. The quote for all the contestants in the final round was, “As long as lions have no historians, stories told will always flatter the hunter.”

Mather opened his speech by saying: “Everyone thinks Scar from ‘The Lion King’ is evil because of the way he tried to usurp power, but great leaders throughout history have done the same thing. The only reason people think Scar is evil is because Simba eventually defeated him.”

Judges at the tournament rated speakers on a variety of rhetorical skills, including the depth of insight in the speech, the clarity of the speaking and the lucidity of the ideas expressed.

Contestants enter several different categories and receive a cumulative score for the entire tournament.

Lipper, who finished sixth overall, and Mather, who finished 12th, are the only seniors on Northwestern’s Speech Team, which began competing four years ago under the direction of coach Richard Roe.

“Mather and Lipper really spearheaded the growth of the team when they were freshmen,” Roe said. “This year was a banner year for the program, with (membership) rising from four people to 12. The future of the team also looks bright.

“As a professor in the School of Speech, I’ve found that a lot of Northwestern students competed in speech in high school, and they just didn’t know there was a speech team on campus.”

The team placed 12th in the tournament, but team rankings are given by an aggregate score, so Northwestern’s 12-person team was at a disadvantage to 30-person juggernauts such as Bradley University and Illinois State University. If teams were scored on an individual average, NU could have placed much higher, Lipper said.

But team members aren’t complaining: They’re a tight-knit group of friends, brought together by their common love for hearing themselves talk.

“We spend nearly every weekend of Fall and Winter Quarter away at various speech tournaments throughout the Midwest,” said Lipper. “You get to know your teammates pretty well.”

That relationship proved beneficial to Lipper at Nationals. He usually doesn’t let his teammates watch him speak, but he made an exception for the final tournament of the year.

“When I mentioned Kermit’s name,” he said, “I looked over at my teammates and smiled. It helped put me at ease for the rest of my speech.”