Student wins national award with his take on cliché of the gay best friend

Chapman University sophomore Mark Pampanin grew up at a time when the “the gay best friend” became glibly known as the must-have accessory for every fashionable female in need of a sympathetic ear or a martini pal, as essential as the perfect pair of skinny jeans.

But Pampanin says enough already with that silly cliché. In fact, he said it so well that he won a first-place national award at the 100th Biennial Pi Kappa Delta tournament, beating out competitors from 89 other colleges and universities to take the top honor in the After Dinner Speaking category.

The political science major and member of the Chapman University Forensics Team says he was so shocked to hear his name called at the award banquet, he can barely remember accepting the award.

“I remember walking by this giant audience and shaking hands and posing for a photo,” he says, laughing at the memory.

The Chapman University community is invited to hear that speech, along with the other award-winning speeches the team took to the national competition, at Vocalize, a showcase event on Thursday, May 2, at 7 p.m. in Argyros Forum 209. Admission is free and a reception will follow. Catch a glimpse of his speech in this video.

Pampanin’s win is the first time Chapman’s speech and debate team has earned a category first at the national event, said team coach and instructor Allan Axibal-Cordero. Although only eight members strong, the team also won 24 awards overall, securing seventh place overall, another Chapman first.

“They’re a very special group. Number one, they’re very talented,” Axibal-Cordero says. “Most other teams with comparable ranks had between 10-20 members, making it easier for them to accumulate points to reach the top 10.”

With his slightly more than nine-minute speech, Pampanin skewers the notion that the gay best friend characters and references trotted out in situation comedies, movies and fashion media are actually clever symbols of a forward-thinking society. Rather, as a gay man he finds it just as silly and flat-out demeaning as the monosyllabic Tonto was to the heroic Lone Ranger.

“It is a serious issue. Because it’s about commodification. You see it in almost every minority group that gets tokenized by the majority,” Pampanin says.

Pampanin has also written on the subject in The Panther.

The opportunity for that kind of social commentary is one reason Fran Dickson, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies, says the department is enjoying a renewed interest among students eager to hone their speaking skills and increasingly take the next step to enter competitions.

Public speaking “is an old form of media, but we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in it and I think that has to do with students’ need for creative expression,” Dickson says. Her dream is to someday have the team endowed with donor support and expand the team’s competition opportunities. “It’s like intellectual athletics. It would be wonderful.”

Other students attending the event and bringing home awards include Cassidy Jensen, Hasnu Kwatra, Josh Nudelman, Noreen Raja, Tim Seavey, Shelby Stanton and Valerie Swartz.

Dawn Bonker

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