EMU student honored in oratory contest

An Eastern Mennonite University honors student took second place in an international peace oratory contest.

Jessica Sarriot, a senior development and peacebuilding major with minors in pre-law, political studies, history and social sciences, currently living in Harrisonburg, was honored for her speech, Peace Churches and War Profits,” in the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest. She received a $225 cash prize.

In her address, Sarriot called members of Mennonite Church USA to support the Palestinian church’s call voiced through the Kairos Document as well as Palestinian civil society and Israeli peace groups for selective divestment from the Israeli Occupation. Leaning on the stance of the Mennonite Church and its affiliated institutions of supporting peace as well as the concept of “first do no harm,” she asserted that removing stocks from companies which help to enable and entrench the oppression of Palestinians was a moral mandate.

“This call comes from a deep love for both Israelis and Palestinians and an understanding that love speaks the truth and holds its subjects accountable as well as a recognition that doing nothing is not a neutral act but a support for the status quo,” Ms. Sarriot declared.

She ended with a call to action for all members of Mennonite congregations, institutions or stock holders with Everence (formerly Mennonite Mutual Aid) that they speak up in support of divestment. “This is our Kairos, our opportune moment to work for justice,” she stated.

Sarriot is a native of Paris, France currently living in Harrisonburg. Following graduation this spring, she plans to join nine other people in SEED, a two-year peacebuilding program in Colombia with Mennonite Central Committee.

The annual event, open to students in Mennonite and Brethren in Christ universities and colleges in Canada and the United States, is administered by Peace and Justice Ministries of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. The top three speakers receive scholarships to attend a peace-related conference or seminar as well as cash prizes, with $300 awarded for first place.

First place award went to John Wray, a 2010 alumnus of Conrad Grebel University, Waterloo, Ont., for his presentation, “Seeing the Human in the Human.”

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen College and Bluffton College (now University). Participating colleges host a contest with student speeches on the general theme of applying the Christian peace position to contemporary concerns. These individual campus contests usually take place during the spring semester of the academic year.

Judges for the 2010 contest were Michelle Armster, co-director of the MCC U.S. Office on Justice and Peacebuilding; Prem Dick, personnel placement coordinator in Human Resources for MCC; and Doug Pritchard, co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Story by Jim Bishop. Jim can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.


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