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Roni Lezama ’22 Receives 2019 Spencer Prize in Oratory

February 27, 2019

(l to r) Jack Rudnick, Ellie Thompson, Justin Celebi, winner Roni Lezama, Regina Fontanelli, and Sophie Hochman competed for the Spencer Prize on February 19 in Robison Hall. All are members of the Class of 2022.

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – In Olin C. Robison Concert Hall before an audience of more than 200, a trio of judges crowned Roni Lezama ’22 the winner of the Spencer Prize in Oratory on February 19. Competition for the award, now in its second year, is only open to first-year students.

Six finalists competed for the prize. The following five students qualified for the championship by winning their Commons competitions:

  • Regina Fontanelli ’22, Brainerd
  • Ellie Thompson ’22, Atwater
  • Sophie Hochman ’22, Wonnacott
  • Justin Celebi ’22, Ross
  • Jack Rudnick ’22, Cook

On January 23, Lezama triumphed in the Ross Commons Championship as the "People’s Choice" winner. The victory qualified him for the Wildcard Round on January 27, where he earned the sxth spot in the Grand Championship, alongside the winners from each of the five Commons. 

(l-r) Stephanie Miller ’20, Spencer Prize executive coproducer; David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration; Colleen Fitzpatrick, vice president for advancement; James Sanchez, assistant professor of writing; and Sean Rhee ’21, Spencer Prize executive coproducer, stand on stage behind winner Roni Lezama ’22. Provost, Fitzpatrick, and Sanchez served as judges.

James Sanchez, assistant professor of writing; Colleen Fitzpatrick, vice president for advancement; and David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, served as the judges.

Called “An Ode to Carlos: I’m Sorry Papi," Lezama’s speech explored the complex relationship between immigration and bilingualism. He shared his perspective on the experience of living in America and his journey through childhood to Middlebury.

Growing up with his Mexican grandmother Graciela and father Carlos, Lezama said his ethnic identity influenced his thinking and writing. He spent the summer of 2018 preparing for his father’s court date with an immigration judge—an experience that ultimately motivated him to aspire to a career in immigration law. With this goal in mind, he is currently pursuing a double major in political science and education studies.

Photos by Gioia Kuss