Hello! I’m Aubrey Brolsma. I’m a writer for the campus section of The Anchor, and this semester I got the immense honor of being the odd year orator for Nykerk 2020. Nykerk is something that is very near and dear to my heart, but not a lot of people know what goes on behind the scenes. This is an unusual article from our section, but I want to share the Nykerk magic and some of what it is to be a Nykerk orator with Anchor readers.
First, Nykerk is a fun event, but some people get confused by what exactly it is. It is an event conceived as a tradition on par with the Pull, but for the arts rather than athletics. Nykerk is comprised of three main events: play, song and oration. To participate in play or oration, one has to audition, while song is open to all who want to join. As this year’s orator, I had to go through an audition process. I had auditioned my freshman year to be orator, but the wonderful Elizabeth Bassett (’23) was chosen to represent our year in 2019. I tried again this year as a sophomore and was selected by the odd year oration coaches, Montserrat Dorantes (’21) and Camryn Zeller (’21), who had been the orators in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The audition consisted of a five-minute preparation time before giving a three-minute impromptu speech; I also had to hand in a sample of my writing. That night, the coaches surprised me outside my residence hall to tell me that I had been selected as orator this year! It was amazing, but given that we only had three weeks, it was time to get to work.
We started the whole oration process by brainstorming. The theme for Nykerk oration this year was “A Dream Deferred,” a line in the famous Langston Hughes poem, Harlem. As a history and classics major, my brain immediately went to the past and what history has been like for those who have been marginalized. I, personally, have always been interested in women’s history, and I realized that so many women have had their dream deferred over time, whether in life or after death. This morphed into the idea of exploring great women’s legacies. We asked ourselves, “How have women’s stories been twisted, and how can we set the record straight?” I came up with a list of around ten women throughout history whose stories we could tell; from that list we chose Cleopatra VII and Anne Boleyn, two queens who have been villainized and sexualized before, and especially after, their deaths. So we had a topic, but we were missing a vital piece of the odd year oration: the metaphor. It is tradition that every odd year oration has some kind of metaphor to tie into our argument. I thought back to something I had learned in one of my classics classes, the fact that white marble statues from ancient times had once been painted in beautiful colors, but over time their color and vivacity had washed away. My speech also ended up being about how misogyny of the past has led to the situation we face in the present day, with pay gaps, male-dominated fields and education disparities.
After our brainstorming session, I had to get writing. Every oration, odd or even year, has to be around eight minutes long, which is four to five pages of text. The writing process was the hardest part for me. I wanted to represent Cleopatra and Anne Boleyn well while also compiling a speech that would capture my audience for eight minutes. After every paragraph or two, my coaches and I would go over what I wrote and painstakingly edit it. After about a week of writing, we had something we were fairly comfortable with and moved on to the next stage: choreographing hand motions. My coaches went through my speech, found points throughout that would benefit from visual representation and created moves to match. As they were creating motions, I was memorizing my speech. Every oration speech has to be completely memorized, motions and all. I was lucky enough to be able to memorize the motions and the words at the same time, which helped me nail down the flow of my speech. I, myself, am not particularly good at memorization, but we had so many practices that I was able to do it. I would also be remiss to not mention my roommate, Anna Koenig (’23), who would sit, watch me and make sure I didn’t mess up my words or motions. To help memorize my speech I would also mouth the words as I was walking places or while in the shower. I messed up a lot, but I am grateful my coaches were so kind every time I made a mistake.
The week of Nykerk came so quickly, but we felt ready. That Monday, my coaches had me run through my speech while they did everything to distract me. They shouted at me, played music, watched a Youtube video, danced and, at one point, threw a paper clip at me. It was chaos, but I did make it through after only breaking for laughter a couple of times. The next day, on Tuesday, it was time to record my speech. This year Nykerk was performed entirely virtually. For me this meant that I did my speech in front of four people, including my coaches, and a camera. Before I did my speech, my coaches and I took some pictures with the hallowed Nykerk Cup and did a traditional walk up to stage. We were allowed two takes, but after my first take, since it was the first time I had gone through without stumbling over my words, my coaches decided to not do another take. We all thought that it was best not to do a second take because I would probably end up stumbling a second time. And just like that, my Nykerk work was done. On Nykerk day, that Saturday, I sat with my friends, many of whom were also Nykerk participants, and watched the wonderful performances both odd and even year had created. It was definitely awkward to watch myself speak, but my friends and coaches were there to reassure me. At the end of Nykerk it was then announced that odd year had won. Our room exploded as we celebrated the victory. We hugged, laughed and got pictures. It was an amazing feeling to win, especially after my coaches and I had spent so much time and effort crafting a speech we were proud of.