I have baby pictures with a black book, so it’d be pretty safe to say that speech is, and has been, a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mom was a speech coach, and various family members have competed in the activity for years, so I was eager to join the speech community as early as I possibly could. On my first day of sixth grade, I asked a teacher if they’d be willing to sponsor and coach a speech team, explained the benefits of speech on students, and when she agreed, I knew my life was bound to change for the better.
Initially, I began my speech career in every interp event possible. I was excited and passionate about each performance, but always was wanting to experience speech in any way I could, which is what pushed me to pursue public address events, primarily oratory, as well. I wanted to do every speech event I could, knowing that I wouldn’t be great at all of them, but that I would enjoy each event for everything it had to offer. This mindset led me to do an HI about Hillary Clinton my senior year as a way to grieve through satire after the 2016 election. It was what many would call a hot mess, but it was so, so fun.
I wasn’t always excited about all of the events, though. The one event that truly frightened me was extemp. At one tournament my sophomore year of high school, my coach signed me up for extemp, and I was nervous and very unenthusiastic about competing in the event. I don’t remember what my first extemp question was, but I think I might’ve spoken for two minutes at best, in that first round. Surprisingly enough, I ending up breaking to finals at that tournament, which led me to continue competing in extemp for the rest of my high school career. I didn’t enjoy it, and complained about the event more often than necessary, but I found success in extemp, which gave me reasoning to continue the activity. I decided to go to speech camp for extemp the summer before my senior year, and that’s when everything changed for me. I began to grow excited about different questions in rounds, thinking of the event as a puzzle to piece together. Extemp grew to be my favorite event, and in hindsight, I am so thankful to have been pushed to compete in extemp my sophomore year.
Competing in speech and debate, my weekends were surrounded by high-achieving students who in turn, were pursuing high profile universities. I knew, though, that I didn’t want speech to end after high school. I applied for Western Kentucky University’s forensics team, and I couldn’t be happier. This community is unlike any other, and it teaches students that their voices truly do matter. I am so lucky to be a part of this community, and it is so wonderful to see how speech develops students into outspoken advocates in such a short period of time.
I had a coach once tell me, “Speech demands that our hearts break, but it also teaches us how to repair it.” Despite endless weekends of competition, countless hours dedicated to practices, and the questioning of life choices on why we spend so many years talking to an audience, but we do speech because we love it. At the end of each tournament, with such a focus on competitive success, only one person will truly be happy. Our hearts inevitably will break throughout speech; you’ll likely experience heartbreak multiple times, even. The incredible thing about speech, though, is that it continues to mend our broken hearts and fill us with a love incomparable to anything else. Speech grants you a family that will accept you with open arms, regardless of where you came from. Speech presents you with opportunities to expand your future and with memories that will last a lifetime.
Whether this is your first year in speech and debate, or if your competitive career is nearing an end, I think my advice for you can be relatively universal. First, stick with this activity. Try every event possible. There might be some events you love that you never would have expected to, and there may be other events you find yourself succeeding in more than you could’ve imagined. I still continue to try new events, and I’m learning LD Debate as a college student. Not only will trying various things give you a new appreciation for the event, but it’ll likely introduce you to an event you love and wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Beyond the obvious competitive aspects of speech, though, sticking with the activity is crucial to truly experience it. Speech may not be for everyone, but I urge you to keep working, and remember why you wanted to join a speech team in the first place. Tournaments, teams, and pieces may change, but the community doesn’t.
We live in a world where our voices, ideas, and opinions matter. What better way to advocate for change and come together to share ideas, than at tournaments and within the speech world? This activity is not just defined by the events, teams, suits, or tournaments: it’s defined by the love students have for it. Speech and debate really transforms the world we live in. Or at the very least, it can teach you that your voice matters and inspire you to make changes for the better. Stick with this activity. Remember what made you want to do this in the first place. I promise you, once it is over, you will miss it.