Communication department professors Gabriel Wisniewski-Parks and Nora Radway-Moore are currently mentoring two Western Carolina University students as they prepare Fall 2022 commencement speeches. 

Wisniewski-Parks is assisting Ezri Villiard, who is graduating with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Leadership. Radway-Moore is helping Atalia Taylor, graduating with her master’s in Construction Management.

Several university students were offered the chance to audition in front of a selection committee to qualify to speak. After being chosen, Emily Virtue, with the educational leadership department at the university, asked Wisniewski-Parks and Radway-Moore to assist the selected students with developing and practicing the speeches.

During the commencement ceremony on Dec. 17, Villiard will share her speech of encouragement and empowerment, while Taylor will share more about her professional journey and how Western Carolina University has assisted her in getting to where she is today.

Taylor “also has come up with a really rich metaphor about what we can learn from nature to help guide new graduates into the world,” said Radway-Moore.

Wisnewski-Parks is looking forward to attending the ceremony to see Villiard’s excitement and energy, as he has never been able to help with a student commencement speech before. However, he did deliver one himself as the undergraduate speaker for the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Communication Studies Department. 

Radway-Moore also looks forward to attending and seeing the audience’s reaction to Taylor’s powerful message. Radway-Moore has never helped a student prepare to give a commencement speech, but she did recently help another student of her’s with a speech “she had to give at the end of her term representing her hometown and passing on pageant title to the next winner,” said Radway-Moore.

Developing Villiard’s speech has been mainly focused on the cohesion of the message and delivery. 

“Ezri had a strong message to begin with, and we have talked together about how to ensure her intentions were expressed in the language of the speech,” said Wisniewski-Parks.

The process with Villiard has also been focused on what Wisniewski-Parks calls “writing for the ear,” or ensuring that what is written down is just as easy to speak and hear. 

“Sometimes sentences can seem fine on paper but might be awkward to speak aloud, so it is good to practice and make sure it’s not hard or clunky to speak the sentences aloud,” said Wisniewski-Parks.

Throughout the process, Wisnewski has been surprised by Villiard’s attention to details such as tone and distinguishing if certain pieces of the speech need to have different types of body language based on what is trying to be conveyed. The most challenging part of mentoring Villiard has been finding a place for her to practice her delivery in a face-to-face environment.

Taylor’s speech was fairly complete when she first met with Radway-Moore. 

“She just had a few minor content edits to make, so we have been focusing on delivery. She has a lot of passion and excitement about this opportunity which is coming through and is really enjoyable to watch, so we’re focusing on getting her comfortable with the material and in front of everyone,” said Radway-Moore.

The two have also been working on getting Taylor more comfortable with the material so she can connect with the audience more without reading the speech word for word. 

Mentoring Villiard has been a very rewarding experience for Wisniewski-Parks and reminded him that commencement ceremonies are exciting and important. 

“On the one hand, yes, commencement will just be another day for students, for all of us. But it remains rewarding to see Ezri be proud of herself and of her fellow students. They’ve been working hard, and it’s exciting to get to help her craft a speech which hopefully will make a meaningful day even more memorable,” said Wisniewski-Parks.

Radway-Moore finds the most rewarding part of mentoring students to be when they are excited about what they are learning and taking part in.

Taylor is “excited to give the speech and excited to have the opportunity. I like being able to encourage her on her journey and be one very, very small part of it with her,” said Radway-Moore.

On Dec. 17, spectators can hear Villiard’s speech at the 10 a.m. commencement ceremony and Taylor’s at both the 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ceremonies in the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center. For more information on the ceremonies, visit here.