Fear Becomes Fortitude-Amy Sukserm

If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever willingly go up in front of 200-seater auditorium halls full of unfamiliar faces while speaking on the power in powerlessness paradox, being an old Korean woman making Kimchi, or pretending to cut my own umbilical cord while giving birth in a White Castle, I would’ve laughed because public speaking is something that satan created out of the pits of hell. Little did I know that my biggest fear and thing that I abhorred most in this world would eventually become the haven of my most treasured memories, skill sets, and friendships.

People always ask me how or why I got into speech and debate, so here it is:

It was in the 8th grade and my Civics teacher gave us this huge presentation to do where we had to speak for 25 minutes about a topic of our own choosing. I talked about the FBI. Don’t really know why. Didn’t really care for it. But anyway, I was so scared about giving my presentation because I had only written 2-3 bullet points on each notecard and I ran out of notecards so I only had like five of them. During the presentation, my glasses were fogging up because I was so nervous, my hands were shaking, my voice was cracking, and there were a lot… A. LOT. of awkward pauses. All in all, my presentation ended up running 17 minutes and completely went up in flames.

But not to worry, there’s a bright side to this.

Later that year, the Trinity Prep forensics team came into our Civics class trying to recruit new members for the upcoming season. They brought in giant trophies, talked about the countless travel opportunities, and the valuable professional and life skills we would gain out of the activity. I was pretty interested.

“But you suck at public speaking,” I thought to myself.

True. But then I internally slapped myself in the face and said that it was time for me to get over this whole “fear of public speaking” thing because public speaking is not going away. There will always be projects, there will always be presentations, and I better get good at them or at least not sweat buckets and almost pass out while I’m up there. I needed and wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I filled out the sign-up sheet and placed it on Mr. Ballard’s desk. He was shook. Yeah, me too.

Some months later, my high school career became full of weekends where I would be anywhere else but home, wearing snazzy suits and heels that made my calves look hot. Yeah the traveling was cool, the winning was nice, and having people forced to listen to me talk for 10 minutes was awesome, but forensics was so much more than a competition where you’d speak pretty and win shiny trophies. It was through forensics that I found my voice, a group of friends I trusted with my life, and a self-confidence I had no idea I possessed.

During my career I competed in Oratory, OI, POI, and Duo, with my main event being Oratory. I’ve reached elimination rounds at Harvard, Yale, GMU, Berkeley, Sunvite, Emory, the Tournament of Champions, NCFL Nationals, and NSDA Nationals. I’ve also competed in the final rounds of Blue Key, Bronx, and the FFL Varsity State Tournament, and was a three-time NSDA qualifier. Speech has truly given me the opportunity to share ideas with an open-minded community, to passionately advocate for what I believe in, and to speak for those who do not have the courage nor the opportunity to speak up for themselves because they’re oppressed into silence.

As much as forensics is, technically, a competition, I’ve always emphasized the belief that this activity has the power to inspire others and make an impact on the world bigger than ourselves. The best part of this activity for me was not winning the round, but the people who would come up to me after the round with hugs and thank you’s telling me that they deeply related to what I had to say--people who thanked me for speaking on a certain topic because they were going through the exact thing that I was addressing--people who no longer felt alone. That was why I kept going. That was why I willingly woke up at 5 AM every Saturday and Sunday and put on an itchy pantyhose. That was why I sometimes didn’t eat until midnight because I was too busy in rounds. It made me so happy knowing that my words had so much influence on others and inspired them to live their lives unapologetically, give them a new sense of self-confidence, and let them know that there’s someone right there alongside them.

I’ve discovered myself through speech and debate, and in the process, I’ve also helped other people discover themselves. This is a community to share stories and experiences and through that, become more aware of people who come from all walks of life. This was truly an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world and it’s definitely the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Never in a million years would I imagine myself where I am now. That girl who nearly broke down in tears during her Civics presentation turned into an empowered young woman who’s not afraid to speak up for herself and others. I have speech and debate to thank for all of the beautiful life opportunities, friendships, and self-growth that I’ve gained. It’s the most wonderful thing and I cannot emphasize enough how much love I have for the activity and the community that changed my life for the better.