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Armstrong College Connects Oklahoma, England and Israel for Annual Speech Banquet

EDMOND—Students in three countries participated in Herbert W. Armstrong College’s 16th annual speech banquet on February 18. The event marked the first time that students in England, Israel and Oklahoma have shared a formal event simultaneously by videoconference.

The event connected students and faculty sharing a 10 a.m. formal brunch in Edmond to those holding a 4 p.m. formal dinner at the college’s sister campus in Edstone, England, and to the remaining holding a 6 p.m. formal dinner at an apartment in Jerusalem, Israel, where they are contributing to an archaeological excavation.

In Edmond, freshman speech instructor Harley Breth introduced the event as highlighting the best results of the speech program. The theme of the event, “Raising the Ruins,” was featured with table centerpieces that featured Raising the Ruins and key events, quotes and dates from Worldwide Church of God and Philadelphia Church of God history. (The Philadelphia Church of God sponsors Herbert W. Armstrong College.) Assistant organizer Arianna Eames said, “There has been a real emphasis on significant dates in the Church lately, so we wanted to do something related to that.”

Throughout the meal, Breth presented nine speakers, the winners of a “speak-off” competition in early February.

From Edmond, senior Josué Michels exhorted the three audiences to “Be Not Like the Smombie,” comparing people who are addicted to their smartphones to zombies. From Jerusalem, senior Rachael Grellet and her prop, a black bucket decorated with a smiley face, told the story of “A Bucket’s Life” at the excavation site. From Edstone, Junior Jessica Brandon spoke about her experience handling the language barrier while visiting Germany and encouraged audience members to try and communicate with others who don’t speak the same language.

The second set of speeches included sophomore Warren Reinsch, who spoke from Jerusalem about what he has learned about work ethic from his archaeology experiences: work clean, work fast and work hard. From Edmond, sophomore Ariana Eames shared “Miracles in the Details” involved in the purchase and installation of the Swans in Flight sculpture at Armstrong Auditorium. Junior Tyler Verbout recommended that audience members keep journals as “Historians for God,” using as examples Herbert W. Armstrong’s records that he used to write his autobiography and Edstone dean Stephen Flurry’s journal which he used to write Raising the Ruins.

The third set of speeches included freshman Gianni Welsh, who relayed the story of how he put aside his preconceptions and befriended an ostracized student at his high school, “The Kid at the Back of the Room” who at graduation gave him a letter thanking him for his kindness. From Jerusalem, junior George Haddad spoke about “The Gift of Second Chances” he received for showing compassion to a youth in need at Philadelphia Youth Camp. Junior Bradley Smithies delivered the final speech, “Sounds of War,” from Edstone, using a miniature sound mixer to play sounds of combat recorded during World War I, comparing them to spiritual battle and contrasting them to a coming time of “peaceful silence,” when Satan’s broadcasting ceases.

Edstone faculty member Amy Flurry said the speeches were some of the best she has ever heard at a speech banquet in terms of presentation and depth.

The sophomore class worked five hours the night before the event and four hours the morning of, with several arriving prior to 6 a.m. Sophomore Brittany Terrell said, “It made me appreciate all the work. Behind the scenes, you could see everything get done. Even the little things take longer than you think.”

“So much effort from so many people had gone into the event,” said organizer Michael Davis, “so once it was finally underway it was so rewarding to see the smiles on people’s faces and the good time they were having.”

The aspect of the speech banquet that many attendees said they appreciated the most was the videoconference connecting students and faculty at three locations, but this connection almost didn’t happen.

“The moments before were dubious at best,” said speech instructor Roger Brandon. “Before Mr. Stephen Flurry gave the opening prayer, we were not sure whether it would work or not.”

“Ten minutes before the event, the video kept buffering” said sophomore Harvey Powell, who assisted Church staff members Josh Sloan and Benjamin Tauer with the audio-video equipment. “But then God had a hand, obviously, because the event went really smoothly.” Attendees in all three locations described the connection during and after the prayer as “flawless.”

Church staff member Stephen Coats said, “Usually connections such as this do not work so well due to intermittent Internet speeds, but God really blessed us.”

During interludes between courses, camera operators at the different locations took advantage of the strong connection and panned members of the audiences, some of whom mugged for the camera or became targets of impromptu camera operator Stephen Flurry’s super-zoom technique.

“I thought this was the most moving speech banquet that I can remember,” said theology instructor Andrew Locher. “Having all three campuses united the student body and faculty in a special way ….”

Edmond homiletics instructor Joel Hilliker said, “It underscored the fact that this is a worldwide work. There are so many facets, but we really are united in our effort to raise the ruins.”

Edmond assistant dean of students Eric Burns said, “Even though we are still separated, we are still one family.”