GatorCon invites students, staff to stage

First-year class puts together public-speaking convention on campus

Rudra Schultz-Ray, ’23, speaks about his childhood experience in his talk, “Growing up white.”

Public speaking on a college campus is primarily limited to classrooms and academic subjects, but it does not have to be.
A lineup of nine individuals in the Allegheny College community, from students to faculty to President Hilary Link, presented on a topic of their choosing on Thursday, April 14, in Shafer Auditorium during a public speaking event known as GatorCon. Talks ranged from examples of human rights violations across the globe to lessons taught by heavy metal.
“I just think it’s a really fun event for students to just talk about things that you wouldn’t get a chance to talk about,” said President of the Class of 2025 Abigail Estrada-Hernandez.
GatorCon was the result of months of planning and preparation on the part of the class of 2025. During one of the class’s weekly meetings earlier last semester, Vice President of the Class of 2025 Ray Colabawalla originally proposed a TEDx at Allegheny, as he had had a similar public speaking opportunity in high school.
“I thought that would be a great thing to bring the community together and make it a yearly event where it can start to be a tradition at Allegheny,” Colabawalla said.
But, as Colabawalla went on to say, TED licensing prevented the convention from being branded as a TEDx event. One of the requirements was for someone to have attended a TED convention before, which none of the senators had. First-Year Class Dean Niki Fjeldal then suggested that the class of 2025 call its event GatorCon.
The senators discovered that GatorCon had been organized previously at the college in 2019. This first iteration, though, was exclusively for students belonging to specific honor societies on campus. The first-year class wanted to give everyone a chance to be on stage.
“With this GatorCon, we’re inviting all students from all types of backgrounds or interests, majors, minors, as well as faculty just to talk about their interests, talk about their stories, basically anything that they’re interested in or passionate about,” Estrada-Hernandez said.
Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications Jason Andracki delivered the aforementioned talk about heavy metal, titled “All I Really Needed to Learn I Learned from Heavy Metal.” He signed up partially because he wanted an opportunity to speak on a topic close to his heart, and partially because given the fact that he works in admissions, he is familiar with the difficulties that can sometimes arise in organizing events.
“It’s hard to get (events) up and off the ground, so I wanted to see if I could be of assistance in any way possible,” Andracki said.
To prepare for his talk, he explained, he put together an outline of ideas. He also would send text messages to himself while driving. Meeting with the first-year senators, he found out that he could use slides and audio clips, which he incorporated into his presentation. Once he had a structured outline, he would practice giving his talk, timing himself to ensure he hit the 15-minute mark.
Andracki has delivered numerous admissions presentations over the years, hitting on the same key points that his coworkers would. This particular presentation stands out in that the choice of topic is entirely his.
“Often, I’m doing a presentation about Allegheny, and we have a set of slides that we’ve revised and refined over the years,” Andracki said. “It’s probably since my college days where I’ve had public speaking where it’s just, ‘Oh, propose a topic that’s your own creation.’”
According to Estrada-Hernandez, obstacles in the preparation process included getting enough speakers to sign up and encouraging students to get out of their comfort zone. While some people may have an idea, they may not want to talk about it in front of a crowd.
But she added that the time that went into the planning process made addressing these issues easier.
“The class senators that I’m working with in terms of organizing, I think we all do a really good job of getting tasks done and delegating tasks so we’re not all too stressed out,” Estrada-Hernandez said.
Another step in getting ready for the event was reaching out to Link. Colabawalla, who suggested this addition to the lineup of speakers, explained that he wanted to give her a chance to present as scholar of Italian literature and art Hilary Link, unaffiliated with her job as president of the college.
“Every time she’s been on to speak in anything … there’s always a lot of students,” Colabawalla added. “We thought that a good way to get people to come attend the event was have a really, really high-profile speaker.”
In her talk, Link outlined the beauty of Rome, Italy, where she had worked and lived for six years as dean of Temple University Rome prior to coming to Allegheny.
Estrada-Hernandez pointed out that her role and the roles of her fellow senators in ASG may look different next semester. But the message of the original GatorCon, to connect departments as well as student ideas, is something that she would like to see carry into the future.
If GatorCon is slated to become an annual event, members of the Allegheny community can begin preparing for the 2023 revival as soon as now. But public speaking is not everyone’s forté, even if they care about a topic enough to spend time talking about it. For those who are nervous about being in front of a group of people, Andracki suggests repetition, in particular with topics that are a bit impersonal.
“I think there’s sometimes more pressure when it is something that you really identify with,” Andracki said. “(Practice) with something that is just purely the facts.”
For now, Colabawalla simply wants GatorCon 2022 to be memorable. When he first arrived on campus, he noted a lack of school spirit, and he hopes an event like this will rectify that and make students proud.
“A success would be if people show up, remember it, and be like, ‘We should have this every year,’” Colabawalla said. “That’s what we’re all aiming for.”