National runner-up

April 27, 2010

A Bradley University senior placed second in the country’s oldest public speaking competition last weekend by practicing what he preaches.

Patrick Campbell was awarded runner-up honors at the Interstate Oratory Contest after he impressed the judges with his persuasive speech about the funding gap in American education.

“I think what made my speech work so well and so powerful is that I have a vested interest in what I’m saying and I believe it,” said Campbell, who founded a non-profit four years ago to address problems and advocate changes in the education system. “I do practice what I preach.”

Campbell initially tied for first place out of more than 50 competitors but lost the tie-breaker at the event in Norman, Okla. Entrants were selected after finishing first or second in the oratory event at their state championship. Campbell finished first in Illinois in the persuasion event.

He adds the Interstate award to several others, including a first place finish in the oratory event at one national championship and second place at another national championship.

He saved his best performance for his final contest in honor of former teammate Curt Byars, who died earlier this year. After learning of Byars’ death in February, Campbell decided to take Byars’ favorite event – oratory – and do the absolute best he could.

All season, Campbell obsessed over the speech, constantly perfecting it. Then, in the Interstate contest’s final round, “I just had this calmness come over me. I got up and just performed it and it went extremely well,” Campbell said. “It was more a celebration than anything.”

Forensic team coach Dan Smith has seen Campbell’s speech countless times this season.

“I thought that was the best performance of that speech I’d ever seen,” Smith said.

The Interstate Oratory Contest is the oldest in the country, dating back to 1873. Significant political leaders, such as three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant, have competed in the contest.

"You just think, ‘Wow, 100 years ago, this guy was sitting here giving a speech,’” said Campbell, who plans to move to Boston after graduating to work for Google and continue his non-profit work. “It still is pretty cool to think about that fact.”