Diving into the uncharted waters of Odd Year oration

Every year at Hope College, there is this wild tradition called Nykerk. To an outsider or first time attendee of Nykerk, the event may seem overwhelming, confusing or simply bizarre, but it has held a very special place in the heart of Hope College and the girls involved for over 80 years. Rooted in tradition and set up as a presentation of the artistic talents of the Sophomore and Freshman girls of Hope college, Nykerk provides a space for artistic expression and a unique way to get outside of one’s comfort zone and build a strong community. 

Nykerk is an impressive display of what the hardworking and dedicated women of Hope College can accomplish in just three short weeks. It is broken up into three distinct areas: Song, Play and Oration. Nykerk is unique, and within that oration is even more unique: a woman is chosen from both odd and even years to prepare an eight minute long speech along with motions to perform in front of a huge group of peers, parents, and professors who attend Nykerk. 

For this year’s oration, the theme was Between the Lines. For her speech, the odd year orator, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bassett (’23), chose the title Uncharted. Her speech touched on exploring convictions in the church and what it means to pursue doubts rather than ignore them. After sharing such a personal part of herself during Nykerk, I’ve asked Lizzy to reflect on this impactful experience. This is what she shared with me:

What inspired you to become orator?

I have always been passionate about public speaking and young people speaking out. Cam Zeller, one of my coaches, was my overnight host last year. She was in the midst of her own Nykerk experience with oration and was very open to me about what that was like. I knew that if I were to go to Hope that it would be something I’d want to take on. One year later, I did choose Hope, that interest stayed steady and here I am.

How did it challenge your expectations of what you thought Nykerk was going to be? 

Funnily enough, I never considered what the process would be like until after I found out I was chosen to be the orator. Before, I had always seen Nykerk Oration as just that moment on stage. What I didn’t know was how much time would be spent on my laptop, writing and editing and how close I would become with my two coaches. I didn’t realize that they would be the face of this experience and how lucky I would be because of that.

Was it difficult to narrow in on your topic?

I was choosing between two subject matters. The decision itself was not hard; I was much more passionate about the one I chose. The difficulty with my topic came after, when I was figuring out what my message would be. I was struggling to figure out how vulnerable I wanted to make this, who I was doing this for, and what my purpose would be with this speech. It was a huge opportunity and I wanted to be careful to get it right. 

What is something you learned about yourself in the process? 

I learned I’m very stubborn. I am grateful for my coaches putting up with my rigidity.

What was your favorite part about being orator? 

The best part about being one of the orators, funnily enough, are the moments after its over. It’s when I hear people tell me things like, “I’m going through that too,” or, “It feels good to know that it’s okay to be where I am.” In those moments, I find that the reason I did this, more than anything else, was to open conversations that might not otherwise have happened. Since Nykerk, I have found that people are finding solidarity with each other. For that reason, those moments are the best part of oration.

Who/what is your biggest inspiration?

Although I’m a big admirer of Lizzo and Michelle Obama, my biggest inspiration comes from Martin Luther King Jr. More specifically it is this quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

What were some of your strategies to memorize your speech?

Making it into a rap, understanding why I wrote it in the order it’s in, assigning emotions to different words or sentences, visualizing what I’m saying; all of these helped. 

Is there anything you would do differently? 

I’ve listened to my speech once since Nykerk. It’s hard because I feel like the mature answer would be no, but when I was listening to it I couldn’t help but think, “I should have held that pause longer,” or, “if I stressed that word differently…” or, “I wish I sounded more vulnerable here,” but I think that might be natural.

What are you going to do with your time now that Nykerk is over?

There have been clubs I’ve had my eye on for a while now that I am excited to go to. Aside from that, maybe socialize more, study more, sleep more; I’m not too picky.

What are you going to tell the next orator? 

I’d tell the next orator to tell her truth. It’s not enough to say something true, it needs to be hers. I’d tell her to be bold and to make herself heard. 


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