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In fact, over 200 students get turned away from the class each semester. “We have between 250 and 300 students each semester who want to apply, who do apply.But we can only choose five sections, no more than 70 or 80 people.” Students who have taken the class see its value as part of the undergraduate education, but are split on the issue of whether such a rhetoric class should be required.
“I feel like with my stuff, not necessarily with everyone, a lot of the message is found in the way that things are said.
Just with the emotions, the pauses, or the lack thereof, all of that together.” Boyland emphasizes that music and rhetoric not only sound similar, but also share a broader communicative purpose.
Since Expos 40 is the only rhetoric class at the college, however, and she was not chosen for the lottery until after this internship, Dias-Jayasinghe had had little opportunity to practice her spoken rhetoric in a classroom setting before she had to give her presentation.
Dias-Jayasinghe is not alone in her experience with Expos 40’s lottery process.
Although some argue that advanced technologies and social media are beginning to replace face-to-face conversation, many students at Harvard still see the ancient art form of spoken rhetoric as worth pursuing, both inside and outside the classroom.
Expos 40 may be an anomaly in the undergraduate course catalogue, but at the Kennedy School, the Business School, and the Graduate School of Education, rhetoric courses are much more available.“I think that being an effective speaker is sort of essential for most careers that people take, certainly many of the careers that people in Harvard are interested in in particular.If you’re going into finance, or science, or government, any of these professions will require public speaking,” he said.It’s an art form in the sense that you are trying to reach a human being, because those human beings are right in front of you.” Instructors in rhetoric echo the idea that the interpersonal aspect, the idea of connecting to the audience, is crucial to spoken rhetoric. Carter, currently one of the three preceptors for Expos 40, said that speaking is as much a craft as other forms of art.Expos 40 focuses on improving public speaking skills through practice and cultivating an understanding of communication itself.“As human beings, we’re hardwired to be social creatures,” Mc Carthy said, “We seek to be understood.” Amanda N.Dias-Jayasinghe ’17, who took Expos 40 last fall, sees the connection between public speaking and the deeper messages that music conveys.“I perform because I want people to feel something, that’s the goal. I feel like it helps me figure out the way that I’m thinking, my emotions.” Boyland said that he uses his techniques of speaking as a way to respond in real time to the reactions of his audiences.He echoes Cohen in his sense of the musicality inherent in spoken word. People like the way that I say things,” Boyland said.If you want to call it an art, it certainly can get in the poetic,” he said.“We practice the craft of gauging an audience, which is artistic.” Though the music of the words may very well define spoken rhetoric as an art, students and faculty also note rhetoric’s practicality and pre-professional purposes. Scanlon ’18, a previous student of Expos 40, sees spoken rhetoric as almost universally useful.