Hamilton College Trustee Charles McKinney of Binghamton, N.Y.  signed an agreement in 1878 which allowed Hamilton to claim a portion of his estate for the purpose of establishing these prizes. His intent was to have the prizes “stimulate the undergraduates of said College to diligence and proficiency in that department [oratory].” Thus, the McKinney Prizes in Oratory have been given out since 1885.

The 2024 winners will be recognized at Class and Charter Day. Additionally, the senior winner will take home $2,500; winners from each of the other class years will take home $1,250.


The McKinney Prize is open to all full-time students, with one prize awarded in each class. There must be at least four contestants from each class for the preliminary round in order to have a competition for that class. In the event that too few competitors register for a certain class year, those students registered from the class may choose to compete with the class above them.


This competition requires a persuasive speech. The topic should have relevance and interest for a Hamilton College audience and should be presented in a manner appropriate for the occasion and setting. 

Preliminary Round

To participate in the 2024 Preliminary Round, record a video of your speech and submit it to this Google form. Be sure to check out our tips for virtual presentations. Scoring criteria are listed below.

All recordings must be a single take. That is, you may not splice together different recordings to make one complete speech.

Final Round

Each final round competitor will submit a detailed outline or manuscript of the final speech. Each final round competitor will present a six to eight minute speech. Speeches should not be read from a script. Scoring for the final round will be based on the same criteria as the preliminary round, with 10% reserved for evaluation of the content based on the submitted materials.


The judges will assign scores on two broad areas: content/organization and delivery.

Content and Organization 
  • Topic and specific focus were appropriate for the audience (Hamilton community).
  • Clear organization was followed consistently throughout the speech.
  • Speech consistently used evidence that was appropriate for the topic (e.g., narrative, statistics) and was cited as appropriate.
  • Language use was appropriate for audience (e.g., avoided jargon) and occasion.
  • Logical connections were clearly made between ideas within the speech.
  • Speaker’s use of vocal qualities (volume, pitch, emphasis) enhanced the presentation.
  • Nonverbal behaviors (gestures and eye contact) enhanced the presentation.
  • Speaker was fluent (e.g., avoided fillers such as “um”) and conversational.
Overall Impression
  • The speaker was engaging throughout the presentation.
  • The overall presentation was consistently persuasive.

Recent winners


First place Amaris Martins '26, "Lives Are Set Up For Failure Before They Even Began: Reforming Student Aid Programs For Higher Education" | video

Second place Abigail Moone '23, "It Grows Back! The Phenomenon of Dorm Room Haircuts, and Why You Need One" | video


Abbie Wolff '22, "Apathy and Access: Accessibility at Hamilton College" | video

Tinashe Dylan Manguwa '25, "Here Is Holy" | video


Aurora Cai '21, "Do Not Let Your Uniqueness Mute You" | video

Abbie Wolff '22, "Mark Zuckerberg Wants You to Keep Scrolling: The Real Value of Your Screen Time" | video

Eric Moss '24, "The .1%" | video


Taomi Kenny ’20, "Face Your Feelings" | video

Abbie Wolff ’22, "The Will of the People: Why the Filibuster Threatens American Democracy" | video

Sam Lieberman ’23, "The Woods" | video


Michael Wang ’19, "Hidden Fees" | video

Taomi Kenny ’20, "The Value of Curiosity" | video

Ken Fung ’21, "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your World" | video

Abbie Wolff ’22, "Speaking to be Heard: The Impact of Socialization on Women's Speech" | video


Conor O’Shea ’18, "Standing for Something: Reinvigorating Student Advocacy on Hamilton's Honor Court" | video

Emily Aviles ’19, "A Crash Course in Psychological Self Defense" | video

Federico Pollevick ’20, "Pub Power as Tool for Free Speech" | video

Honor Allen ’21, "Waving the White Flag: A Surrender to Awkwardness" | video


John McGonigle ’17, "Why A Story is the Secret to Good Conversation" | video

Conor O’Shea ’18, "Hamilton, We Need to Talk: Due Process and Title IX" | video

Michael Wang ’19, "Good Willed Hunting" | video

Taomi Kenny ’20, "Trigger Warnings: Freedom of Speech and Hamilton Values" | video


Office / Department Name

Oral Communication Center

Contact Name

Amy Gaffney

Oral Communication Center Director

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