Family donates scholarship money to speech competition winners

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A local couple, appreciative of the education their kids received at Dixie State University, is paying it forward by donating scholarships to current students.

Rhonda and Michael Tommer donated $3,000 to DSU that was split into two scholarships this semester. Their son, Ryan Tommer, graduated in music education, so $1,500 went to a student in that discipline. Their daughter, Samantha Tommer, graduated in criminal justice and communication, so the other $1,500 was donated to the communication department and split amongst students in a speech competition.

“We always felt if we got the chance to give back, we would start, and (there is) no better place than (DSU),” Michael Tommer said.

Both their kids competed on debate team in high school, which was their main inspiration to fund scholarships through a speech competition. The Tommers learned the speech competition was an option after Samantha Tommer had won a scholarship in the Antone and Cola Bowler Persuasive Speech Competition in 2014.

The Tommers said they plan to fund the scholarships each year as long as they are financially able to.

“We have been really blessed, and we like to share that,” Rhonda Tommer said.

Twenty-five students competed in the first Tommer Family Impromptu Speech Competition that took place Nov. 5. Students were given a different set of three quotes and two minutes for preparation before delivering their five-minute speeches on the quote of their choice. Two judges critiqued students’ speeches in three rounds on delivery (eye-contact, gestures, voice), quality of argument, and creativity. The First place winner was awarded $800, second place received $450, and the third place winner went home with $250.

Third-place winner Mary Bundy, a junior communication major from Harper, Oregon, said she entered the competition for extra credit offered by one of her professors but was happy to come away with a scholarship and a little extra self-confidence as a returning student.

“I’m basically twice as old as everybody here, so it helped me get out of my shell,” Bundy said.

Second-place winner Nijat Aliyev, a senior biology major from Baku, Azerbaijan, said he wanted to compete because he loves a chance to experience something new.

“Anytime there is opportunity to learn, there is opportunity for victory,” Aliyev said.

First-place winner Ashlie Scott, a junior education major from Aurora, said she didn’t expect to win the competition but was glad she decided to compete. She said the experience broadened her horizon to what her major could be applied to and encourages other students not to restrict themselves to their major.

“The key to student involvement is not having students limit themselves to only their department,” Scott said.

The Tommers said it is just one of the ways they chose to give back to the community. They said they hope their speech competition, along with the other two speech competitions offered by the communication department, will grow into a debate team for DSU someday.

“It is a good experience that will carry you beyond graduation,” Michael Tommer said.

The next speech competition will be the Pansy Hardy Speech to Entertain Competition held in March. The Tommer Family Impromptu Speech Competition is predicted to return next fall semester.