My coach gives me a pep talk as I stand backstage in a packed auditorium waiting to perform at the National Catholic Forensic League’s semifinal round. My competition consists of the top eleven high school speakers in the nation. As I wait my turn to speak, I drift back in time to when other kids used to make fun of the way I spoke, when my evenings were filled with speech therapy classes, and the constant at-home exercises I would recite each night.
In elementary and middle school, my speech impediment seemed to be my defining characteristic. It was the first impression I left when I met people. Adults thought it was cute; children did not. My parents were told I had a “tongue thrust,” where almost every word containing the letter “s” or the digraph “th” sounded phonetically incorrect when I spoke, leaving me feeling alienated at school as I struggled to vocalize complete sentences. This seemingly intractable flaw felt like it would never be cured, until I discovered the art of forensics.
“Remember back to when you first started competing in forensics.”
My middle school English teacher urged me to join the school’s forensics team. Initially, I finished in last place at many local tournaments. The written critiques by these judges opened my eyes to how the world heard me. Judges often urged me to try other clubs. Thus, I worked as hard as I could to overcome my impediment. However, it was not incessant speech therapy that cured me; rather, it was the competition of public speaking.
“You have worked so hard to get here.”
After a year and a half of constant practicing, I competed at the state championship. At last, I did not struggle to speak correctly; it was as if I never had a speech defect. The daily practices and repetition of properly enunciating every word had slowly cured my speech impediment. As a result, I won the state championship in middle school and realized that I wanted to continue to participate in forensics at Delbarton. Finally, I wanted everyone to hear me.
The strict disciplines of public speaking have given me the opportunity to clearly refine my speaking abilities. I could now express my own ideas in a manner where people would actually want to hear what I had to say.
“You are one of the twelve remaining speakers in a field of over 300 competitors!”
Throughout high school, I spent many weekends competing at forensics tournaments and, to be honest, I would not have done it any differently. I woke up at 5:30 AM , dressed in a suit and tie, and traveled across the nation to compete. I embraced the art of public speaking and continue to recognize that it has transformed me into the person who I am today. Forensics has allowed me to find my voice and my identity, two aspects of myself that I struggled to find earlier in my life.
“Remember what we practiced: volume, enunciation, and composure.”
I am called to the stage. I take a deep breath and speak about the profound impact that a teacher can have on a child. I smile as I finish. I have found my passion - a passion that has cured me along the way.